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Sugar consumption tackled in health literacy essay contest

UCLA dental student wins second annual competition

March 06, 2017

By Michelle Manchir

Ms. Gorshteyn

Dental student Ida Gorshteyn knows how challenging translating scientific and clinical information into plain language for the public can be.

But she also knows how to do it successfully.

Ms. Gorshteyn, a student at the University of California Los Angeles School of Dentistry, was named earlier this year the winner of the ADA Health Literacy in Dentistry Essay Contest for her writing, “The Truth About Sugary Drinks and Your Smile.”

“This essay was actually one of my first experiences with health literacy,” she said. “It was eye-opening and educational to see firsthand how nuanced and actually difficult it is to write with a public health targeted audience and goal in mind.“

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.

The winning essay is published on the ADA’s consumer website,

This year, contestants at seven dental schools were asked to research scientific literature on the topic of sweetened beverages and their effect on oral health then write an essay explaining their findings using health literacy principles and words that a broad audience can comprehend.

In her 500-word missive, Ms. Gorshteyn laid out the oral health deficits of drinking sugary beverages, along with tips for making better choices, including a list of drinks that are full of sugar and a list of better choices.

“Some of the most common beverages that Americans drink actually have loads of sugar, even drinks that are marketed as ‘healthy’ or ‘all natural,’” she wrote. “If you think you’re safe with drinks like juice, think again! A glass of apple juice can contain a similar amount of sugar to glass of soda.”

To keep her essay easily digestible, Ms. Gorshteyn said she got some guidance from her mentor, Dr. Kathryn Atchison, a professor at the UCLA School of Dentistry’s Division of Public Health and Community Dentistry.

She said she also used a SMOG check — a formula for measuring the understandability of a piece of writing — to ensure her vocabulary choices, sentence structure and colloquialisms could be received by a wide audience.

Ms. Gorshteyn, who hopes to pursue a pediatric residency after dental school and also a public health master’s degree, said participating in the contest increased her understanding of the importance of health literacy in dentistry.

“So many negative habits and beliefs that people fall into about oral health are very easily avoidable,” she said. “The limiting factor is often exposure to relevant knowledge and advice from health professionals. Unfortunately, a lot of this information and advice comes from difficult-to-understand resources. If these resources catered more to the masses and used more directive guidance rather than abstract information, patients would truly benefit and feel more in command of their own oral health.”

Runners up in the contest include Anna Hawkins, Case Western Reserve University; Andrew Lum, Tufts University; Morgan Shivers, Case Western Reserve University; and John Tran, University Illinois at Chicago.

The schools involved in this year’s contest were 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.

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