International Research Has Far-Reaching Value for Dental Students
Second-year dental student Hailey Taylor in a Ghana school library, where a dental and research team screened 250 children. Photo courtesy of Hailey Taylor
By Andy Evangelista
A one-week trip, more than 7,400 miles away to West Africa, will help make second-year UCSF student Hailey Taylor an inspired and impactful dentist at home.
Taylor, a research fellow in the School of Dentistry’s Global Oral Health Program, is part of an Oregon and UCSF team studying silver-nitrate fluoride varnish (SNFV), a topical antimicrobial, in preventing and treating cavities in children.
SNFV has been used in many countries for decades, but it is relatively new to American dentistry. UCSF recently became one of the first dental schools in the country to train its students in the use of silver compounds for dental patients.
The large-scale testing of SNFV in two developing countries where cavities are prevalent may have a two-fold benefit: lots of data to confirm that SNFV works, and treatment for hundreds of kids who are at high risk of dental decay.
Last May, the research team treated and evaluated some 150 children in Ecuador. In September, Taylor joined the research for its second leg, venturing to rural Ghana to screen residents of an entire village and apply SNFV treatment to children who desperately need dental care.
“We saw 250 kids in two days — more teeth than I've seen in my life,” said Taylor. “The organization was very impressive and ran very smoothly, considering we were in a school library without electricity or dental chairs.”
While the main goal of the trip was to collect data, for Taylor it proved to be as much revelation as research.
“I was surprised by the level of need for dentists in the country, particularly in very rural areas,” she said. “I don't have much clinical experience, but we saw a lot of people who really needed a permanent dentist, but instead got us. I think for those we were able to see, it's certainly better than nothing, but there's a huge need for permanent dental care providers and better oral health education.”
Taylor entered the School of Dentistry in 2015 after working for three years as a chemical engineer. She decided that a health care profession – perhaps a general dentist – was more for her, and it’s in her blood. Her mother is a nurse practitioner in the rural California county of Colusa. Taylor envisioned herself as an “everyone’s dentist” – for the young or old, wealthy or poor.
“My mother cares for many people across the life spectrum,” said Taylor. “I have a great admiration for what she does. In a rural area like ours, you don’t have to be a specialist. You become what the people need.”
Last spring, Taylor inquired about the School of Dentistry’s Global Oral Health Program’s research fellowships, but wasn’t quite sure where her curiosity would lead. West Africa was distant in both location and mind.
“UCSF is such a renowned research school, and I felt that I wouldn’t be getting the full value of my opportunity here if I didn’t do some research,” she said.
Taylor talked to Benjamin Chaffee, DDS, MPH, PhD, director of Global Oral Health, about the SNFV project, which was headed by Oregon dentist Steve Duffin, DDS. She developed a research proposal, and eventually was awarded a research fellowship. Chaffee is her mentor and co-investigator, along with Jeremy Horst, a UCSF clinical professor and scientist and a leader in and proponent of SNFV research.
The journey to Ghana far exceeded her expectations. “I am so much more excited about my research and global oral health research following this trip,” she said. “It's one thing to talk about the need, but another to see it and put a face to it. SNFV has tremendous potential in rural villages and other areas that don't have enough providers.
“It's hard to imagine how one person can make such a significant difference until you see it in person. I think this trip made me realize that even as one general practice dentist, I can make a significant impact,” said Taylor. “The person (Duffin) who started this project was where I am at one point, and he has improved the lives of hundreds of kids.”
Taylor is one of nine UCSF dental students awarded fellowships this year by the Global Oral Health Program .
"Hailey has been an outstanding representative of the Global Oral Health Program,” Chaffee said. “As her mentor, I see the preparation and attention to detail that leads to her success. The week in Ghana is the memory that lasts a lifetime, but the months of poring over spreadsheets, devising protocols and crafting a sound hypothesis are what leads to meaningful new knowledge.
“Research has been a strong component of the School of Dentistry for decades,” said Chaffee. “In recent years, our students have shown not only a rising interest in public health, but also global health.”
The Global Oral Health research fellowship program provides research and travel support to UCSF dental students undertaking original research projects with a global oral health focus. Fellows were chosen based on faculty review of their research proposals.
"I am continuously impressed by the creativity and ambition of our research fellows,” said Chaffee, who has directed Global Oral Health since 2014. “The program could not operate without a stellar team of faculty mentors and the commitment of our student to build connections in the local community and around the world."