“I am terrified of blood and guts, but teeth never seemed to scare me,” says pre-dental student Anna (Cassidy) Scott ’19. “So the dental field seemed like the perfect fit for me.”
Scott, who is majoring in biology and minoring in chemistry and sports studies and exercise science, has focused on characterizing the struggles behind dental care in the North Country with the hopes of capitalizing on and improving the education, as well as interacting with the surrounding community.
“As a native of Waddington (New York), I was really motivated by growing up in the area and seeing the health care boundaries that stumped the surrounding area, whether this is lack of education or the cost of materials,” says Scott. “Having grown up here, I knew of the disconnect, lack of importance and education surrounding dental care and hygiene. I wanted to provide a gateway for this conversation to begin.”
During her final semester at St. Lawrence, Scott took part in a Senior-Year Experience (SYE), where she was able to immerse herself in the sciences and conduct collaborative research with Associate Professor of Biology Kari Heckman.
“I always tell my students, ‘If science experiments worked the first time, we’d have a cure for every disease,’” Heckman notes. “Research is not always a smooth process, but those who succeed have the determination to persevere.”
Scott started her research by performing both online and in-person community surveys, asking questions about insurance, education, and daily habits. She even set up a table at a local basketball game. “It was really difficult at first to collect information,” she recalls. “Not only was it hard to get myself out there, but it was also hard to find those willing to take the time.”
After only a few people responded, Scott decided to take the digital route. “We started an online survey through the newspaper, North Country This Week, and got over 200 responders, which was a huge improvement and would drive the research,” she recalls. “It was an awesome experience to not only meet so many, but also speak to those that were genuinely interested in my research and wanted to see me succeed.”
According to Heckman, who collaborated with Scott throughout the SYE, the pre-dental program at St. Lawrence is both informational and hands-on while also creating spaces to develop important skills for the professional years, all while fostering students’ passion for the field. Being a part of the program and receiving support from the Mr. and Mrs. John Scudder Boyd Jr. Endowed Scholarship Fund, Scott was able to conduct this extensive, community-based research while also shadowing practicing dentists in the area.
“These shadowing opportunities have been crucial to the starting stages of the field to learn techniques, but also developing the skills to interact with patients,” Heckman states. “From writing the survey questions to collecting responses at a local high school basketball tournament, we’ve built this project from bare bones to solid information. Learning more about the obstacles to rural dental care through this project has enabled Cassidy to better address the needs of the people she will serve, and I am ecstatic that I could be part of this.”
Heckman continues: “Some of these students go on to graduate school or professional schools like medical or dental school, but all of them gain analytical and critical thinking skills applicable to whatever path they choose right here at St. Lawrence.”
Even before graduating, Scott has been eager to educate her community. She recently presented to local Girl Scout troops on the importance of dental care. “The troop was very engaged through all of the topics we spoke about; dental health, stress and peer pressure,” she says. “It was fun to interact with the younger generation of the area and start the change in habitats today. We included activities to engage them including comb flossing races, making stress balls and acting out skits.”
Scott’s research, passion and hard work for dentistry has already paid off: She was accepted into and will attend the University at Buffalo’s School of Dental Medicine, which features an intense and extensive four-year program with hands-on patient and clinical work while working in the facilities and gaining the much-needed experience to go into the field.
“St. Lawrence and Dr. Heckman were able to provide me with a great starting point and introduce me to a program that I had little knowledge of as a first-year,” Scott reflects. “This research solidified my plans to come back to the North Country and help create better dental care and education for the community.”