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Essay contest tested students' ability to write for the layperson

July 30, 2015

Ms. Martin
What does diabetes have to do with "that smile of yours?" asks dental student Laura Martin at the beginning of her award-winning essay posted on ADA's consumer website, MouthHealthy.org.

Writing effectively about oral health awareness for the public was the goal of the contest that Ms. Martin won, sponsored by the ADA and the Ohio Dental Association at Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine.

Third year dental students at the Cleveland, Ohio, school were asked to write 500 to 700 words about diabetes and oral health in the contest that wrapped up in June with the announcement of winners.

Ms. Martin, now a fourth year student, was named the winner with her essay "Diabetes and Your Smile," which goes on to answer her own question and includes information about the symptoms of untreated diabetes, why people with diabetes are more prone to periodontal disease and how dentists can help patients fight diabetes.

"Communication skills are one of the most essential aspects of dentistry," said Ms. Martin.  "It is important to be able to communicate effectively with people who may not have had any background in science or dentistry because we need our patients to understand their health and different treatment options."

Dr. Sorin Teich, associate professor and associate dean of clinical affairs at Case Western, said the idea for the contest came out of a meeting he attended with ADA representatives.

The intent of the contest was to provide students the opportunity to research the topic – diabetes and oral health — using evidence-based science and then write an essay targeted to the public, using health literacy principles.  

The ADA Commission on Dental Accreditation's Accreditation Standards For Dental Education Programs, Standard 2-21, requires that graduates be competent to access, critically appraise, apply and communicate scientific and lay literature as it relates to providing evidence-based patient care.

Dr. Teich said while this skill can be difficult to test, the essay contest served as an effective way to get students to engage in it.

"They had to put quite a lot of time in that essay," Dr. Teich said.

Dr. Teich joined representatives from the ADA National Advisory Committee on Health Literacy in Dentistry; American Student Dental Association; the ADA Council on Access, Prevention and Interprofessional Relations' Prevention Subcommittee; and ADA staff in evaluating the essays based on scientific accuracy and readability. Ms. Martin's essay stood out, Dr. Teich said, because "she was able to synthesize and communicate scientific information in a way that's extremely readable for the layperson."

In addition to her essay being posted on MouthHealthy.org, Ms. Martin received an iPad courtesy of the ADA. Furthermore, the Ohio Dental Association will provide travel expenses for Ms. Martin to attend the ODA Annual Session in September. She is also invited to participate in the ODA Annual Session table clinics.   

The contest runners-up, Suliman Salman, Kaitlyn Kolosionek, Evelyn Qi and Ashley Howen, each received a $50 Amazon gift card, courtesy of the ADA.
Dr. Teich said he hopes the contest can expand to other universities, so it will be a national health literacy event driven by students.

For more information about the contest, contact Sharon Clough, manager of preventive health activities for the ADA Council on Access, Prevention and Interprofessional Relations, at cloughs@ada.org.