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Clear and concise: Case Western dental student takes top spot in health literacy essay contest

April 05, 2018

By Michelle Manchir

Photo of Erinn Enany
Ms. Enany
Erinn Enany believes dentists should always try to deliver simple but meaningful messages when communicating with patients.

The third-year dental student at Case Western Reserve University demonstrated her own ability to do so in winning the third annual ADA Health Literacy Essay Contest, sponsored by the ADA Council on Advocacy for Access and Prevention. An edited version of the winning essay is published on the ADA's consumer website, MouthHealthy.org.

The 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's contestants from 17 participating dental schools in the U.S. were asked to write on the topic of "important things you should know about baby teeth" while using health literacy principles.

Ms. Enany's essay, Small Smiles: What You Need to Know About Baby Teeth, lays out in plain language what baby teeth are used for, when to expect to see teeth start to come in and how to take care of them when they arrive. It includes recommendations such as brush two times a day with a fluoride toothpaste to prevent cavities; clean between teeth daily once you see two teeth that touch; and make regular visits to your children's dentist.

Ms. Enany, who said she hopes to pursue a pediatric dental residency after she graduates in 2019, said she became familiar with the Federal Plain Language Guidelines to effectively put together her essay. 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.

"Using plain language is an important tenet of effective communication with patients," Ms. Enany told the ADA News. "Clear and concise statements should be made by the dentist such that patients understand the implications of their future oral health treatments."

As first-place winner, Ms. Enany received an iPad.

The runners-up for the contest were Imran Ahmed from the UCLA School of Dentistry; Erica Recker from the University of Iowa College of Dentistry and Dental Clinics; Sarah Sachdeva from Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine; and Robert Koski from the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry. The four runners-up were each awarded a $100 Amazon.com gift card.

This is the third year that the ADA piloted a health literacy essay contest.  The pilot began in 2015 by the suggestion of Dr. Sorin Teich, associate dean of clinical operations and associate professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine. The ADA and the Ohio Dental Association co-sponsored the contest and the state dental association paid travel expenses for the first place winner to attend its annual meeting.  

For more information about health literacy or the essay contest, visit ADA.org/en/public-programs/health-literacy-in-dentistry.