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Welcome to the University of Michigan School of Dentistry's Blog!

Here you will find blogs from our students about various issues facing our prospective dental professionals, from a day in the life to dealing with frigid Michigan winters. Please email umdentalmedia@gmail.com to suggest a topic you would be interested in learning about. Enjoy!

To the Class of 2017

May 3, 2017

by JJ Ubonwan Saeung

December 3rd, 2008 – it’s lunch shift at Sadako Japanese Restaurant on South U. and I was dragging–I didn’t get the “phone call” from Michigan 2 days ago. My dream to have an in-state tuition dental education was escaping. As I maneuvered through small aisles of the restaurant, handing out miso soup and salad, along came Pattie Katcher, strolling in the midst of our lunch rush, deliberating her lunch option. Did she think she was getting away with this? Nuh-uh. I suppressed my urge to approach Pattie till she was on her way out. Pattie was perplexed at my springing up by her out of nowhere. I blurted out: “So… if you didn’t get a call on December 1st, does that mean you weren’t accepted to the dental school?” Pattie asked me to clarify my name, then asked, “Have you checked your mailbox lately?”

The mailbox! The snail mail! Why didn’t I think to check my mailbox!!? Sure enough, among the local groceries inserts and junk mail was that white crisp letter that changed my life. I got accepted to University of Michigan School of Dentistry!

Graduation 2013May 1st, 2017 – Ahh, the hopes and dreams… The smell of invincibility is in the air; it’s the Graduation season! Class of 2017, congratulations! You made it through one of the toughest times of your life! Good work, hooray! In a few days the letters “DR” on your loupes and your miscellaneous emails/username will be legit!

As a Michigan Alumna, I hope you found your experience at Michigan worthwhile. That it was a good decision to become a Wolverine. Still not quite convinced? You will soon find out about the Michigan Difference, especially those of you who will be moving out of state for work or for more training. Trust. Even though there might have been some low points in your dental school career, you will soon realize you got a world class education. Just wait.

You may also hear lots of advice around this time of the year (“Think big, you have the power to change the world!“, “make sure to have an iron-clad contract!“) Some advice is even confusing and contradictory! (“Single-owner practice is a thing of the past”, “Every year you don’t start your own practice, you’re missing out on your optimal earning potential“) There are so many great speeches out there from people much more accomplished than I. So when I was asked to offer YOU, the University of Michigan School of Dentistry Graduating Class of 2017, some real world advice, I must swallow my pride and say, I don’t have any authentic pearls of wisdom to share.

I dare not advise you to follow your gut and give everything your all. Jim Carey once mentioned that failure is inevitable, so you might as well take a stab at whatever you love to do. That some of us choose paths in life out of fear disguised in practicality… I dare not say that because I understand that everyone has varying degrees of responsibility. I do hope that it does not completely prevent you from enjoying your life. Throughout your career, dentistry will mean different things to you. Take comfort in knowing that you get to tailor your professional world in ways that fit how life presents to you. I don’t need to tell you to put in 100% effort in everything you do; you already know you need grit and patience to succeed. If at the end of that effort, you find that it’s not working out, I hope you know that you can take control of your destiny. You don’t have to stay in that job. Go on and seek the life you want! But we all know not to quit before your try your best, right?

I hope that you will have self-reflection and strive for a balance in life. I hope you will take a time to give back, to volunteer, to serve the underrepresented population in your area. We all know you don’t need to wait, because in a few years life might get a hold of you and before you know it, it’s 40 years later.

I dare not warn you that you’re not going to get very far in life based on what you already know. It’s what you will learn after today that will determine the course of your life. I hope you remember to stay humble–learn to know your limitations, and seek help when appropriate. I continue to learn through CE courses and reputable publications. Because like iPhones, the world of dentistry changes all the time! I try to be up to date so I can give my patients the best possible care and do no harm. But you already know that life is a never-ending learning opportunity, don’t you?

I dare not advise you to broaden your horizons and try to make new friends every year. To talk to each other with an open mind. Michelle Obama already said it, so you can take her advice.

I dare not advise you to start saving early, because everyone knows you can’t rely on social security since you’ll most likely live to be centennial. I wouldn’t dare telling you this because despite living within my means and making sure I put money away for retirement, I do make sure to take time out of work to travel every year so I can learn about new cultures and gain different perspectives in life. And I simply love it. I’m sure you are capable of making your priorities in life and deciding what’s worth spending on. I hope it’s not everything?

Life will go on. You will meet many kinds of patients, you will struggle to finish that second molar endo you got thrown in your first day of work, finding out which rotary system to use. You will find that perfect dental assistant, or have to fire that one to get to another perfect assistant. You will learn that navigating through dental insurance plans is like looking into the eye of Sauron. You will come across situations which shake your core beliefs and threaten what you are made of.  And you might come to wonder, why am I doing what I do?

In that very moment, I hope you will dig deep and reach back to that time you heard back from Michigan. The moment your professional life began. Remember that you are equipped, more than you know, to handle all of these obstacles. Michigan has prepared you, to understand the root cause of all things dental, so that you can seek the best possible solutions for your patients (and sometimes, even life). Don’t take it lightly that you’re a Michigan-trained dentist. So take a pause and deep breaths. You will get through it. Again and again.

I suppose if there is one piece of advice I may offer you, it’s to remember to look around past your loupes. Don’t forget to check in with your colleagues, you friends, your family. Lean on one another. Give and take that support. A friend of mine was struggling with severe alcoholism and needed help getting to rehab and the best decision I had ever done was to not ignore the signs that were a cry for help. Many things will happen in the next few years in your life and career. I hope you will take the time to check in with yourself and people around you.

Lastly, before donning yourself up with that cap and gown and receiving that dental lilac hood, I hope you will take a moment to be grateful of those who helped you get here along the way. Success came from a group effort. Take the time to thank those special people in your life before you run around to find the perfect spot to take that graduation photos!

Congratulations Class of 2017. Wherever you go, Go Blue.


profilepic2017Bio: JJ Ubonwan Saeung graduated from UMSoD in 2013. She is the founding member of AAPHD Student Chapter at Michigan. She completed GPR training at Community Medical Center/Fresno VA hospital system in California and served as clinical lecturer to D3 Oral Surgery course here in 2015. She currently practices with her dental group in Lansing and serves 1 day a week at the Volunteers of America Homeless Clinic.  IG: GetToothy_w_DrSaeung 

Dear Kenya

April 11, 2017

Dear Kenya,

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When my feet lifted off of American soil on February 25th, I barely knew you but by the time they landed back at DTW, you were a fully integrated permanent part of me. You were everything I had hoped for and more. Not only were you a fertile land for personal development and dental outreach but also a humble abode for a vacation. You pushed me to live minimally: hand-washing my own clothes, showering in cold water and living without the luxury of air conditioning. You allowed me to see animals in the wilderness like I had never seen before. You taught me the difference between a Grevy’s Zebra and the common zebra or the distinguishing characteristics of a reticulated giraffe. Above all, you gave me friendships that I will hold close to my heart for a long time. Because of you, I danced with children for hours and hours. I ran from one end of the dusty school fields to another, chasing a soccer ball with a herd of kids by my side. And when I felt tired, you graced us with the sweetest of mangoes and watermelons. You made me forget about home.

Furthermore, you gave me an opportunity to serve people that truly need it. Alongside our group of 9 students and 2 faculty members, I spent day after day migrating from school to school conducting oral health screenings, establishing electronic patient records, applying silver diamine fluoride (SDF), fluoride varnish, and sealants on children. And perhaps most importantly, we provided each child with individualized brushing lessons. Overall this was no small task but with a lot of hard work and the help of locals, we were able to see over a thousand children in two weeks.

Kenya, you also humbled in ways I could not have imagined. You showed me the signs of progress and development in an African country that I did not expect. You showed me that Kenya, like the rest of Africa, is developing. You also showed me your problems and vulnerabilities. Those were areas of learning for me, as I tend to take so many of those things for granted back home. Never again. Finally, you taught me how to be happy regardless of any condition I may find myself in. The Kenyans were always happy and excited to take on the day. They were generous and kind to us. At many points during our stay, they thanked us for all the work we did for the children. I am now left thinking if I thanked them enough for how much they had done for my mind and spirit.

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Thank you, Kenya.

With love,

Hussain Haider
with Brandon Scott, Alisa Dvarishkis, Nate Hock, Kanchi Shah, Radhika Patel, Josh Smith, Sergio Calleja, Brittany Amor, Carlos Gonzalez, and Robert Eber.

To see the full album of the 2017 Kenya pics, check out our Flickr album

The Alumni Love for #1

March 8, 2017

Sometimes one of your alumni takes a snowy day in his post-doctoral program and writes a love letter to your school.  Some things have changed since Kevin Kuo graduated in the DDS Class of 2014 but the #GoBlue feeling never goes away.  Thanks, Kevin!

Since graduating from UMSOD in 2014, Kevin completed a 1-year general practice residency at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia, focusing on implant and emergency dentistry. He then enrolled in 3-year endodontics program at Harvard School of Dental Medicine. His primary research interest includes regenerative endodontics. Kevin has also continued his efforts with Dentyzion—the dental technology consulting company started while in dental school. He is working on Google Glass integration with dental school electronic health records.  To see more of Kevin’s sweet video work, check out these Bytes posts from when he was a student, and his YouTube channel Kevin Kuo Productions for new stuff.

One Love- Jamaica Outreach

January 31, 2017

by Justin Kammo

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On January 14th 2017 a group of 11 University of Michigan dental students embarked on a trip to Jamaica, led by Dr. Elliott Hill and Dr. Kyle Pullen. This was my first time out of the United States and I must admit that I did not know what to expect. I was traveling to a tropical island nation with a group of close friends so to say the least, I was excited. Our first goal was to provide care, mainly extractions of badly decayed or painfully infected teeth, to adults and children who were in underserved, rural areas.  I can say proudly that we achieved that goal. We worked long hours in very unique conditions in order to provide these individuals with relief from their dental pain. Although setting up working and sterilization stations was a challenging task, seeing the smiles of pain free children and adults was well worth the effort.

Our second goal was to connect with these patients and the surrounding community in a way that we could all remember and cherish. Speaking on behalf of all members of our group, I can honestly say that I have never been around a more dedicated and compassionate group of professionals and students than the one we were a part of. Furthermore, the patients we worked on were extremely grateful for our time with them and treated us like family, offering sincere thank yous and showing us the friendliness of the beautiful island of Jamaica. The bonds with students, faculty, and patients that were made on the 2017 Jamaica trip are ones that cannot be broken. All of our phones will continue to play reggae music, and for that, I am very thankful. As the Jamaicans say, “out of many, one people, one love.”

Justin is a D3 and enjoys relaxing and hanging out with friends. 

Click here to see the whole Flickr album of their trip.

The Sense of Hustle

September 13, 2016

A piece of advice I would like to give to the D1’s and D2’s would be to never lose your sense of hustle to learn.

It is very easy to get lost in the demands of dental school and the only people who comprehend how challenging it is are the students around you. I empathize with the fact that dental school is tough, it is a constant weight on your shoulders, and when you have a free moment you want to just breathe. However, because of these facts, I find that some students do not show up to school ready to put in 100%, or they want to get by on the bare minimum. I understand when so much is required of you, it is hard to spend the energy you have left. However, I want to tell all of you that now is not the time to simply ‘get by.’ You worked incredibly hard to be at a prestigious educational establishment that has an enormous amount to offer in regards to your education.

Do not let the intensity of the curriculum allow you to put a ceiling onto your own learning experience. Take the time to give yourself a break, but do not fall victim to the new fad of ‘treat yourself’ more than you are working for it. It is imperative to have balance in life, but when you show up to this school, come hungry for an education that some students are dying to have.

I challenge each of you to take advantage of every opportunity to learn while you are here. After a long night of studying, the last thing you want to do is be fully engaged in the rotation you have in the morning, especially with an exam that same afternoon. However, we only have four years at this school, which will go by in the blink of an eye. Use these four years to show up to your lectures, rotations, etc. with the mindset that you want to learn from these world-renowned faculty members that most people do not have access to. Hustling for your education, for your own future, is going to be the foundation of who you become professionally and personally.

Begin this curriculum starving for an education most are not privileged to have, and graduate knowing you capitalized on every single opportunity available; then you can wear the name University of Michigan School of Dentistry, proudly.

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Take Away Tips:

  1. Monday through Friday, 8am-5pm you are doing something academic.
  2. Never stop learning! If you have free time during the week, practice that prep you struggle with in pre-clinic, ask a resident if you can shadow them, look up the genetic mutation you heard someone mention but did not know what it was, read articles in JADA that pique your interest… do something educational.
  3. Surround yourself with friends and faculty who encourage you and hold you accountable.
  4. Adjust your perspective to view every day as an opportunity to gain experience and knowledge.

Cassandra Wieckhorst is a D3 and a member of the American Association of Women Dentists (AAWD) and the Special Care Dentistry Association (SCD).

Stories from Kenya

September 8, 2016

The Kenya group – Our Thoughts

It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you take 7 dental students and 2 faculty members 7,777 miles away from Ann Arbor to the lush, green lands of Kenya. We were physically far from from our dental school, but the people of Kenya made us feel right at home with their hospitality and kindness. Our team of 9 had the goal of working with Kenyan oral health professionals, teachers and students to create sustainable oral health in the schools we visited. We were fortunate to pair our University of Michigan team with a team of experienced and knowledgeable Kenyan dentists and dental technologists in order to make an impact on the oral health of the roughly 2,200 primary school aged children we had the fortune of seeing. It was important to our group to not just go and work for two weeks, but to use those two weeks to help create an environment of sustainable oral health. To accomplish that, we provided toothbrushes and toothpaste, and taught and reinforced oral hygiene to the children. We performed oral exams and handed out dental referral forms to the children’s parents and teachers. During these long days, we would usually leave at 7am, travel almost 1.5 hours, then work nonstop until 6pm, when we had our 1.5 hour trek home. We were so tired when we got back – even eating dinner was a challenge. Additionally, on our “days off” we shadowed and learned from the dentists in a local hospital and had a meeting regarding collaborations on head and neck cancer with the health sciences faculty of the Meru University of Science and Technology. Although our days were filled with lots of hard work, we still found time to have fun. We also got to enjoy the tasty cuisine of Kenya, explored the Samburu National Park and its plethora of wildlife on Safari, and always found time to talk to, dance with, sing, and play soccer with the children of the schools we visited. To the people we came across in our trip to Meru, Kenya, we are honored to say, “Asante Sana!” (Swahili for “Thank you very much!”)


Teddy Eusebio – Running in Kenya

Being an avid runner, I was absolutely excited to visit Kenya not just for the dental aspect of the trip, but for the chance to run in a country where there is a rich tradition for running excellence. At 5,300 feet above sea level, I was excited for the opportunity to tap into the high altitude training that my favorite Kenyan runners experienced themselves. I would wake up most mornings at about 6:30am so that I could get a 4-6 mile run in before we had to leave for our dental service trips. It was on these 30-45 minute runs where I got to experience my favorite part of Kenya. These runs would take me through dirt packed roads as I passed by farms and lush green forest that bordered the Meru national park. It was on these runs that I would exchange a friendly hello, “Mambo” (Swahili for “Hey!”) or a “Poa” (Swahili for “cool!”) from those I came across. It was on these runs that I would pass by children on their way to school and receive high fives and engage in friendly foot races. It was on these runs that I fell in love with Kenya.


Matthew Nye – The Soccer Match

This was my second time in Kenya, so I wasn’t surprised to find the people in Kenya to be full of spirit and enthusiasm. However, I knew we were going to have some new, fun experiences, and this year’s trip fulfilled that. My favorite memory from the trip occurred after a long day of oral exams for the students of St. Dorothy’s Primary.  The students were finishing up from their day of school and unbeknownst to them, we had brought a few soccer balls to give them before we left. After handing them out, immediately they wanted to form teams and play with us! So we began playing together, and I thought to myself “I should be careful, these are pretty young kids”, because growing up, I had played a little bit of soccer in grade school. However, at St. Dorothy’s Primary in Kenya, I really felt like an amateur! We ran together, played defense together, and passed the ball to each other cohesively, and some of the kids showcased their skills. These 8-14 year old kids were playing like pros. In Kenya, soccer is a not just a sport, but a way of life. So after about 20 minutes of playing (yes that’s all I could muster), I was beaten. My team was doing great, however I had no energy left – I blame the elevation. For the remainder of the match, I sat on the sidelines, tired, but feeling great. We had something in common, and the kids knew it. Though we seemed so different when we arrived, it became clearly evident that we were not. These kids were just like us; fun-loving, ambitious, and fiercely competitive, it just took a game of soccer to realize it.


Leen Khatib – Singing Kenyan Songs

My favorite memory was on one of our long work days, after getting up at 6am and seeing kids at Leeta Primary in the beautiful mountains on the slopes of Mount Kenya.  After seeing kids all day we decided to go out and have a little fun with them. They were shy and timid around us, mostly, as they had never met anyone that wasn’t Kenyan before. But after hours of screenings and treatment, we went out there anyway and they circled around us, curious. They probably wanted to know so many things; why we were there, why our clothes were so different, and why we looked different. Unfortunately, they couldn’t speak English in this part of Kenya (English is only taught in the affluent areas), so we could only communicate through song, dance, and soccer. So that’s what we did. We played soccer, tried to learn some of their songs, and ran around with them. So I started singing a “Kenyan nursery rhyme” (or so I was told), trying to learn the words, and the kids were laughing because I was saying them all wrong. But after a while, I started to get it, and they begin to gather around, probably a group of about 100. They ended up all around me, singing and laughing together, communicating without a common language, bringing together two different worlds in a matter of 15 minutes. They giggled, laughed, and smiled like I hadn’t seen before. After all, kids are kids, anywhere in the world.


Sara Safdari – The Happy Girl

It always had been a dream of mine to go to Africa for a mission trip, so when the opportunity came, I could not resist it. The most memorable part of the trip for me was being in the culture with the people. Every day was a learning experience for me. As I immersed myself to learn more about the culture, language, and the people, I met Johnston. Johnston is from the Masai tribe, but lives at the Samburu safari. Here Johnston taught me about his tribe and the Samburu tribe.  I learned that Masai and Samburu people are actually from the same tribe, but they separated and the Masai people moved to south part of Kenya. However, they speak the same language and they have the same culture. Johnston is a Masai warrior. He explained to me how as a child you get selected to become a warrior and what kind of life conditions you have to live in to get the title of warrior. In the tribes the women don’t have the same rights and voice as man do. Here is when Johnston learned about our cultures. I explained to him that I’m in the same class and do the same things as the guys who are in our group. We are learning the same things and doing the exact same work, and we are treated equal. He could not wrap his mind around it. He was intrigued, and wanted to learn more about our culture. I explained to him how as young girl I had the same education privilege as the boys did. We sat in the same classrooms, played the same games, and took the same exams. Johnston also was shocked to learn that America is a big melting pot, that there are all different races with in America. This experience not only allowed me to learn about the culture but also to teach others regarding our culture. During this conversation Johnston gave me a Maasai name: Nashipae, which means “happy girl.”


David Li – Amani House

Traveling to Kenya ranks up there as one of the best memories of my dental school career. One of my favorite memories is visiting the Amani Home, a children’s orphanage that provides a home and school for orphans or children whose families cannot care for them. The orphanage was built with a holistic, self-sustaining goal in mind through craft making, farming, and livestock. The place was exuberant with an air of serenity and tranquility. I felt at peace and relaxed during my time there. It was a joy playing with the children, and discovering the quiet beauty of the surrounding land. The children are so fortunate to have access to such a blessed environment. I will always cherish my time at the Amani Home. Kenya is a beautiful country.

To see a full set of pictures from the Kenya Summer Research Program trip, check out the Flickr photo album @ myumi.ch/JW9VM

For more information about the Kenya Summer Research Program, check out our headline story @ myumi.ch/a8wMK

Global Initiatives: Corfu, Greece

August 23, 2016

corfu2016-26Corfu, Greece, a small island in the northwest Ionian Sea, is ready for big steps. These steps began with a new Global Initiative at UMSOD: Prevention and Management of Oral and Craniofacial Diseases in Special Needs Individuals. Three third year dental students,(me, Nicole Pentis; Brittney Phillips and Jenn Cleary) joined three faculty members (Drs. Kyriaki Marti, Carlos Gonzalez-Cabezas, and Margarita Fontana) working hard to bring accessible dentistry to the Special Needs population in Corfu.Under the Greek sun, we started the week familiarizing ourselves with the only hospital on Corfu. Oral surgeons explained their experiences with the special needs population. We visited private practices of local dental practitioners to better understand their perspectives and background. We had the pleasure of attending a Special Olympics team practice, where the coaches and parents displayed a passion for their athletes, and an even bigger passion for creating accessible and affordable dental care on Corfu.Corfu-2

As the week went on, students and faculty from the University of Thessaloniki joined our team, and together, with collaboration from the Dental Association of Corfu, we were ready to start brainstorming ways to improve care for all patients on Corfu. Our brainstorming was on display as the trip concluded with a Symposium organized by UMSOD students and attended by local dentists, specialists, lawmakers, parents, and caretakers of special needs patients. Topics ranged from treating patients under general anesthesia, to Special Olympics Coaches’ experiences, to teaching caretakers about oral health, and finally, future steps towards providing Special Needs dental care on Corfu.

But it wasn’t all work!  We had a little time to explore Corfu and take a boat ride in the beautiful Ionian Sea.

We’re proud to have started this relationship with the people of Corfu and look forward to working together. The conversations we had, relationships we formed, and the foundation we laid, all will lead towards providing dental care to one of the populations in greatest need: those with Special Healthcare Needs.

Nicole Pentis is a D3 with a life-long interest in special needs care. For more photos from Corfu, see the album on Flickr at myumi.ch/Jmdd3

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