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Dental students practice communicating with patients in essay contest

September 23, 2016

By Michelle Manchir

Dental students at seven participating schools can enter a health literacy essay contest the ADA is sponsoring.

The ADA Health Literacy Essay Contest aims to help dental students learn and practice communicating effectively with their patients by using plain language, rather than scientific words or jargon, to explain a certain topic.

This year, contestants are asked to research scientific literature on the topic of sweetened beverages and their effect on oral health and then write an essay explaining their findings using health literacy principles and plain language.

“It’s a great opportunity for the students to think about how difficult it can be to translate professional language to layperson language — and to practice doing it,” said Dr. Sorin Teich, associate professor and associate dean of clinical affairs at Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine, who helped organize the first health literacy contest last year. In 2015, only dental students at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, participated in the contest. Laura Martin won the contest with her essay that discusses diabetes’ relationship to oral health.

“The fact that seven schools are participating in it this year really shows the importance of the topic,” Dr. Teich said. “We hope that eventually all dental schools will participate in the contest.”

Contest judges will evaluate the essays based on its syntax and form, scope, presence of recommended action, readability and use of plain language.

The schools involved in this year’s contest are Case Western Reserve University, University of Illinois at Chicago, University of California in Los Angeles, University of Texas at San Antonio, Tufts University, University of Alabama at Birmingham and Nova Southeastern University. Contestants’ participating dental schools must receive the entries by Oct. 1.

The grand prize winner will receive an iPad Air 2 and the ADA’s consumer website,, will publish the essay.

Adam Saltz, chair of the contest work group and American Student Dental Association editor-in-chief, said health literacy is an important concept for students to appreciate. This contest, he said, will help them further refine their skills.

“These skills can be immediately applied to a student’s first few clinic scenarios, as they start to develop patient relations and access their understanding of their oral health,” said Mr. Saltz, a fourth year dental student at Nova Southeastern University.

The following dental associations are also participating in the contest by recognizing winning contest participants in various ways: Alabama Dental Association, California Dental Association, Florida Dental Association, Illinois State Dental Society, Chicago Dental Society, Massachusetts Dental Society, Ohio Dental Association,  San Antonio District Dental Society and the Texas Dental Association.

For more information about health literacy or the essay contest, visit