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An Inside Scoop on Research at ASDOH

Posted on May 11, 2018 11:09 am by Pearce Ollar, ASDOH ‘19

In all honesty, conducting research was something I never imagined doing during my education at ASDOH. Research and I have never gotten along because it always felt forced. I found it daunting and borderline impossible to investigate topics I had no interest in. I couldn’t imagine how any research conducted without complete attentiveness and care could draw new conclusions. However, using personal interests to establish a research topic makes it not only achievable, but also enjoyable.

Before starting research, I thought I knew exactly what I wanted as an oral health professional – to straighten teeth. Orthodontics, was in fact, the reason I applied to dental school and the initial reason why I chose to become involved in research. Orthodontic residency requires some form of research in dental school and, as a future prospect, was something I had to complete. But what could I possibly come up with that has not already been studied? I decided to explore my other interests and quickly landed on the special needs population. Due to medical advances and a greater understanding of this population, persons with special needs are living longer. In addition, career and educational opportunities are continuing to flourish as societal integration is becoming increasingly important. Not only do these individuals face severe malocclusion making routine oral hygiene difficult, but malocclusion can be a root of social discrimination leading to increased stereotyping of affected individuals. Initially, I couldn’t figure out why parents and care givers of persons with special needs seemed so reluctant to seek orthodontic care. I later discovered that it was the orthodontists who were hesitant to perform treatment.

My research project investigated orthodontists’ interests and behaviors in treating patients with intellectual and developmental disabilities (ID/DD). I was curious about the level of training that Arizona orthodontists received, their current practice behaviors, and their interest in the pursuit and type of additional training desired for treating patients with ID/DD. Many previous studies have established a willingness to treat, however, there are very few studies, if any, that explored when additional training and what training topics would be most impactful. This is the niche I chose to tailor my research toward.

My sample population included orthodontists practicing in the state of Arizona who attended the Arizona State Orthodontic Association annual meeting on December 4th, 2017 – a rather small sample size but a sure sample size. One of the greatest challenges in orthodontic research is that it is abundant. Orthodontists are a very heavily surveyed group and hopes of receiving a large number of responses from an online survey is very slim. So, if you are conducting research that involves a surveyed population, find unique opportunities in which to supply your questionnaire or design it in a way that will receive strong interest and therefore a more complete number of responses.

Conducting research has a newly established importance to me. It has allowed me to learn about a population that we have limited exposed to in dental school, and has only solidified my desire to help treat this population in the future. In addition, research has increased my exposure to orthodontics. My involvement in research has taken me to a regional dental conference and has connected me with a mentor who has already accomplished in her career what I can only hope to accomplish in mine. Although orthodontic residency is no longer a definite for me, research has shown me that I can pursue my dreams in a fashion that best suits my needs.

As I reflect back, none of what I had done for research was daunting. None of it felt impossible. Overwhelming at times? Yes. However, I loved what I was doing, and, therefore, it never felt forced. It is actually refreshing to look back and see all that I have accomplished and learned by participating in research during my dental school career. Moving forward, I am excited to see just how big an impact this project can make. My hopes would be to raise awareness among the oral health community, especially orthodontists, about barriers to oral care that the special needs population continues to face. I believe that by increasing formal training, either during dental school or orthodontic residency, the oral health community can continue to take strides in reducing those barriers. While it may seem like an uphill battle, my research has given me hope that someone with an open set of ears and the same passion will continue to increase orthodontic access for patients with ID/DD. Pearce Ollar, ASDOH ‘19

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