Non-traditional Spotlight – Casey Brewer ’21

I grew up working on cars with my dad. Although he did it professionally during the day, nights and weekends were spent helping me develop my mechanic’s hands and teaching me principles of mechanical systems. College, much less dental school, was never even considered. However, I developed a love for math and science and with the encouragement of some influential high school teachers, I found a path that would complement my passion for turning wrench with solving equations. I finished a mechanical engineering degree and started working in the automotive industry to develop airbags. I was able to oversee manufacturing equipment for multiple auto manufacturers and later transitioned into a role designing and testing airbags specific to individual vehicle platforms. I found great satisfaction in knowing the work I did everyday was literally saving lives. However, as the time behind a computer screen became the majority of my work week, I became disillusioned and began looking for a career change that would give more opportunity to use my hands and to help others. At the same time, trauma to teeth #7 and #8 resulted in RCTs. I looked around the endodontist’s operatory and had an epiphany; dentistry is just engineering. Now, in dental school, I’m able to apply those principles of design, material science, and engineering to one of the most mechanical systems in the human body. 

– Casey Brewer, Class of 2021

Non-traditional Spotlight – Casey Bowen ’21

Prior to my dental school quest, I was a quality control tester for construction materials for 13 years (seasons). It was a manual labor job that included repetitive testing of aggregate materials of various sizes and quality for asphalt products throughout the stages of production. Quality control testing was a fun job that saved my employer thousands if not millions by carefully and quickly examining products and tuning them to the proper specifications. This usually meant working 60 – 80+ hours per normal week and being assigned to multiple airport and many of the major highways paving projects statewide.  This job utilized my skills and in turn our team gained countless quality bonuses and awards all over the state of Alaska. 

However, the wear and tear on my body and the social environment that I was putting myself in were not conducive to raising a family. In 2011 my wife and I decided to go to college to gain an education that would allow me to spend more time with my future family and earn a decent living. After completing my degree in Animal and Veterinary Science and finding out that I was allergic to many of the animals I intended to work on, I quickly changed focus to becoming a dentist and haven’t looked back. My journey has not been the most direct path, but many of the skills and talents gained have increased my ability to perform dentistry and appreciate the road to my own success. 

– Casey Bowen, Midwestern Class of 2021

Dental Advocacy – Ben McGiffin ’23

My name is Ben McGiffin, and I’m a D1 here at Midwestern University. I’d like to share a little bit about my experiences in dental hygiene and being an active member of the American Dental Hygienists Association prior to becoming a dental student and ASDA member. During my 9 years as a registered dental hygienist, I have been an active member of my local, state, and national dental hygiene associations.  I attended several WA state House of Delegates meetings and 3 national dental hygiene annual sessions in: Washington DC, Boston, and Las Vegas.

The dental hygiene association in Washington state has long been a powerful advocate for dental hygienists in the state. They’ve helped expand the hygiene scope of practice in order to improve access to care and increase the efficiency of the dental team. Dental hygienists in WA state were the first to be able to deliver local anesthetic to patients, getting it through the state legislature in 1971. 

Expanded duties legislation passed the Washington Legislature in 1971, adding anesthesia and some restorative dentistry procedures for dental hygienists. Dentists supported these expanded functions as a way of handling increasing numbers of clients by using dental hygienists to take over selected duties, saving time for dentists.” ( (emphasis added)

In addition to local anesthesia, WA state was among the first states to allow hygienists to safely deliver nitrous oxide, finish restorations, and provide direct access to hygiene care for patients in elementary schools, nursing homes, and public health facilities. 

Meanwhile, a handful of states still do not allow hygienists to deliver local anesthetic under any circumstance, or even clean a child’s teeth while not under the direct supervision of a dentist. 

I worked for 5 years in low-income elementary schools, providing basic dental hygiene screenings, cleanings, sealants, fluoride varnish, and oral hygiene instructions to thousands of children, many of whom had never been to a dentist. I distinctly remember one child who presented with 5 draining fistulas. While I couldn’t officially diagnose caries or abscesses, I alerted the school nurse and the parents that he had holes in his teeth and several painful, draining lumps on his gums. He had been living with pain in his mouth for months, if not years, and we were able to get him to a dentist that afternoon. This highlights the value that hygienists can have working independently from dentists. 

It’s no secret that the dental and dental hygiene associations often butt heads when it comes to dental hygiene scope of practice. For me, it comes down to two things. The first is this: properly trained dental hygienists are better equipped to provide dental hygiene care than dentists, period. They are the leading experts in the fields of prevention and routine periodontal therapy, spending a minimum of two years in an intense curriculum focused solely on these two areas. I see no reason why a properly trained hygienist should not be able to practice dental hygiene in any and all capacities and settings. Especially in areas where dentists are sparse, hygienists could provide affordable and effective preventive dentistry services.  

That being said, my second point is this: dental hygiene and dental hygiene education does not include restorative or operative dentistry. While the push for midlevel providers is admirable from the standpoint of increasing access to basic dental services, I believe that the gap between hygiene and restorative/operative dentistry is significant. Even in the first quarter of my D1 year, I can appreciate the magnitude of the preparation, knowledge and training necessary to safely and competently provide these services. As an active ASDA and future ADA member, I plan to advocate for dentistry. For me, that includes both dentists and dental hygienists, as well as dental students, assistants, and patients.

– Ben McGiffin, Midwestern Dental Class of 2023

Happy Halloween ASDA- Rachel Bryant ’21, ASDA Chapter President

Some argue that Christmas or Thanksgiving is the best holiday, but I have to respectfully disagree. Hands down it is Halloween. Some believe in the stereotype that dentists are supposed to hate Halloween because of the increased volume of sugary treat consumption. As a dentist-to-be, I can put that stereotype to rest and assure you I will never be the house that passes out toothbrushes or raisins. After all, I don’t want my house to be egged. Interestingly enough, the ADA rates Halloween candy based on how bad it is for your teeth. Any guesses on what candy is the least bad for your oral health? It’s chocolate! So, while you are chowing down on your Halloween chocolate this year, do so guilt free. The ADA says so! Unfortunately, sticky and hard candies are rated as the worst for your teeth. This is bad news for me because my favorite candy is a frozen Twix bar. 

As Halloween approaches this year, I am still pondering what I am going to dress up as. This is like every other year, where I wait until the last minute to decide. Of course, I like to make my costumes, which adds an extra layer of stress with the time crunch but makes the costume that much more fun. There is a small point of pride when I can make my costume super inexpensive, yet creative. One trip to Goodwill, the dollar store, and an occasional Hobby Lobby splurge and I am set. 

Here at Midwestern, it is a tradition to get your Halloween picture taken by Tom, our sim lab manager and Dexter guru. He will take your costume to a whole new level with his photoshopping abilities. 

Paige Davis, Rachel Bryant, Al the gator, Shannon Bischoff, and Macie Kerr 

I can’t wait to see everyone posting their Halloween costumes on social media.

Happy Halloween ASDA! 

– Rachel Bryant ’21, ASDA Chapter President 

Behind the Scenes of Dental Advocacy – Siri Vasireddy ’22

On September 21, six CDMA students had the opportunity to take a closer look at the process of creating successful legislative proposals and smoothly-running lobby days. Year after year, the AzDA graciously invites us to sit in on, and even participate in, their meetings. The three divisions of the AzDA (Northern, Central, and Southern) came together to discuss any revisions to the by-laws, make budgetary decisions, and brainstorm any additions to dental bills that will be sent to legislature in the winter. 

Arizona’s District Five Representative Dr. Regina Cobb addressed 2019’s victories and difficulties. A bill to prevent insurance companies from charging dentists redundant processing fees unanimously passed in the Arizona House and Senate, potentially saving dentiststhousandsof dollars per year. But unfortunately, a separate proposal to have maternal dental benefits added to AHCCCS (Arizona’s Medicaid agency) did not pass yet again. She spoke to the importance of helping legislators realize that prevention, rather than treatment, is key. If a few hundred thousand dollars are invested in maintaining maternal oral health during pregnancy, millionsof dollars can be saved – not to mention the avoidance of adverse health outcomes like preterm birth and low birth weight. The divide between oral and systemic health is still discernable, but through educating both the public and legislators, hopefully that gap will begin to dissipate.

This year’s HOD meeting was particularly special, as it doubled as a celebration of Executive Director Kevin Earle’s eleven-year tenure at the AzDA. While I only met Kevin a little over a year ago, it was obvious after working with him at both state and national lobby days and hearing him speak about advocacy that he has a sincere passion for helping Arizona’s dentists. Many member dentists spoke to Kevin’s dedication and character, and how within the past decade he has facilitated a close bond between the AzDA and dental schools. We are so grateful to him for the opportunities he’s provided us students to get involved in organized dentistry and get a head start in learning about policies that will affect us when we start practicing. Additionally, Arizona’s own Dr. Dan Klemmedson of Tucson was recently named the ADA President-Elect, and will take over the title of President next year. He will be the first ever ADA President from Arizona, and we are so lucky to have his support.  

The more advocacy events I attend, the more apparent the importance of defending our profession becomes. Legislators love to make laws aboutus, and if we are not part of the conversation, then our profession will be governed by an essentially clueless entity. Many issues affect us even as students; the debt we accumulate now will directly translate into the way we will practice when we graduate. The dentist members of the AzDA repeatedly expressed their appreciation of student participation in their organization, and we hope to continue that involvement in years to come.

-Sirisha Vasireddy, Class of 2022

Health and Wellness – Alex Fung ’22

If you’re like me and have terrible posture, yet still wonder why your back hurts at the end of a procedure, then it never hurts to be reminded of proper ergonomics. I’m by no means an expert, but I’ve had the privilege of good teachers, vigilant partners, and trial and error, so I’d like to highlight a few of the tips and cues that work for me. 

One point I’d like to make before I get started is that ergonomics is a team sport. Don’t forget that your own proprioception is not the only tool you have at your disposal to fix your ergonomics. Recruit the help of a coworker, assistant, friend, or even a camera (yes, to film your own posture), because with different perspectives comes better ergonomics.

One of the fundamental pieces of advice I’ve received for general sitting posture is “shoulders back, chest high, and spine aligned.” I like to think as if there was a rod directly through my spine that is pulling me straight up off my seat. Other cues that have stuck with me are “ten toes down” as a reminder to always have your feet planted as a solid base, and “love your abs or they won’t love you back” as a reminder to continue to maintain some level of abdominal pressure to support your back. 

In terms of more complicated situations of pain, I think it’s easy to overcompensate one way or another when things start to tighten up. For example, I struggled with lower back tightness, so I would be overly concerned with lumbar support and trying to compensate with more of an anterior pelvic tilt. I found out that I needed to take a step back and look at my overall position, which directed my attention to more upstream effects, like stretching out my hip rotators and elongating my upper body for more support. My point is that it is important to look at other areas of posture, even if it doesn’t directly involve the painful area.

All-in-all whether you’re pain-free or struggling to get in and out of a chair, it is always important to be comfortable and self-aware. I encourage you to make cheesy cues for yourself and implement daily/hourly reminders to help you stay vigilant. Our goal with ergonomics is longevity, so if you see others around you give them some feedback, because we’re all in this together! Go be great y’all, have a terrific day!

-Alex Fung, Midwestern Dental Class of 2022

Navigating New Partnerships – Amanda Tran ’21

Just a brief introduction – my name is Amanda Tran and I am currently a D3 at Midwestern-AZ. A little over two and a half months ago, we began our journey into clinic. As expected, clinic presented many new challenges, from navigating Axium to managing and caring for patients – there was just so much to learn! Here at Midwestern, we are paired up with a fellow D4 for the year. We find out who our partners are during our D2 year, and as you can imagine, it’s the talk of the town when we receive the news; all of us buzzing about, asking, “So who’s your partner? Do you think you will work well together?” Some will react with excitement, some with concern, and others with uncertainty. What I have grown to appreciate about our pairing structure is that it gives each of us the opportunity to learn how to practice four-hands dentistry, learn how to communicate effectively, and, most importantly, develop leadership skills. This is not to say the process of learning to work effectively with my partner has not been challenging. Here are a few things I have learned from this experience thus far:

1. Stay patient with your partner. 

D3s, try to remember that your partner had fixed and developed systems, processes and communication methods with their previous D4s. If there is something that is not working for you, just set aside a time to address it with your partner. D4s, try to understand that we are simply trying to develop an effective working relationship with you

2. Invest in each other’s success. 

Building a strong relationship stems from understanding that you both have each other’s best interest in mind. This can be established early on by going over one another’s goals and coming up with a plan on how to reach them together.

3. Support the leader in one another.

Being the leader is quite often, the more glamorous role. What we often forget is that being a good follower is just as valuable. Encourage your partner to become the best leader they can be by giving them feedback and engaging with them. Effective systems can result from critical engagement between leaders and followers. Not to mention, through following, we can each learn what type of leader we want to become. 

4. Set the tone for constant improvement.

Set up regular meetings and stick to them. These are times where you both can discuss way to improve, increase efficiency, or go over your goals. Aside from that, it also gives you an allotted time to put out any fires before they start. Address any concerns or feelings you have early on.

5. Listening is a skill. 

Sometimes it’s hard not to take feedback personally. I like to tell myself this, “Well, better now than later, and on Yelp!”. It truly is a gift to receive feedback from my partner. Remember, as hard as it is for you to take feedback, it can be just as hard to give it.            

From things done right, things done not-so-right and things that weren’t done at all; learning to work alongside my D4 has been quite the ride! For those of you who are in clinic right now, I’m sure you can relate. To those who have not yet made it over, I hope this is something that can help you in the future.

– Amanda Tran ’21

Welcome to Indirect Vision – Rachel Bryant ’21, ASDA Chapter President

I remember the first time we drilled on a plastic maxillary first molar; it was a Class I and we were given the parameters that we could NOT cross the oblique ridge, nor encroach too closely on the marginal ridge. What a difficult task that was! There were two challenges I faced as I attempted this seemingly impossible task: 1) My hand would move in the opposite direction than what I needed it to and 2) I couldn’t see anything with the water spray hitting my mirror. I remember thinking “I’m just going to have to be the dentist who doesn’t work on maxillary teeth.” But I quickly realized, most of us are dealing with the same struggles and experiences.

photo with caption
A photo of Cloud Gate, or “The Bean,” in Chicago on a rainy day is very representative of what my indirect perspective was like while drilling on my first maxillary molar – foggy and covered in water!

At ASDA’s blog, Indirect Vision, we encourage you to blow through those oblique ridges and undermine your marginal ridges; we are not here to do “ideal preps,” we are here to chase decay. We hope to foster a platform where dental students can come and write honestly about topics that interest them and experiences they want to express. Ultimately, this is a place to commiserate and share in the trials and triumphs of dental school as well as voice the solace that you seek outside of school.

With us working on the mouth all day you’ll find, as dental students, we have a lot to say!

-Rachel Bryant ’21, ASDA Chapter President

Beyond the Walls of Dental School – Jenn Hecht ’21

Traveling has been a huge priority to me ever since I was a kid. I can thank my Travel Agent mom who has shown me parts of the world most other people my age have only dreamed of. But now here I am in dental school, where I often feel overwhelmed, poor (thanks school tuition), and plagued with a mindset that simply focuses on one thing: learning dentistry. My saving grace during all these lectures and long days are the vacations I constantly think about and spend time planning.

Let’s take a step back. Why go on vacations now, and how can I afford it? Here is how I feel:

There are so many people out there (both dental student and otherwise) that feel like they need to save every penny, wait several years until they have stable financials, and then maybe.. just MAYBE, they will plan a trip. I find that mindset hard to relate to, because often, people will never FULLY reach their ‘ideal’ financial goals. There will always be something in the way of that goal (kids, new business, etc) and that is okay! But allowing that excuse of “I don’t have the money” is stunting the ability to truly live and experience the world…especially NOW as a dental student! We have all the loans in the world to spend on fun vacations, and while we have guaranteed breaks after every quarter, we should be utilizing that money to experience what we can while we are young and able! Now, I am not suggesting using insane amounts of loans just to plan a vacation, but I think that researching and planning vacations that are affordable seems totally doable while in school. Who knows, any one of us could die tomorrow, so live it up now (responsibly of course)!

There are so many opportunities and ways to travel, especially at Midwestern University. While I am not in any school organizations personally, I know that there are groups (such as the Political Advocacy Committee) that travel all over the country and fight for dentists and dental students at the same time. I’ve seen some members of that group go to Chicago, Seattle, Washington DC, Portland, etc. The community service opportunities at this school are great too! While the downside to these trips are that it must be fully funded by yourself, the school goes to several unique places, such as Samoa, Tonga, and Guatemala. I think these trips are great because you get to go with your peers and familiar professors, and if the trip happens during school, they don’t count against your personal days that you get allotted. What many students do (and what I plan to do if I get chosen to go on one of these trips) is plan a personal vacation after serving these communities. For example, if I were to go to Tonga (which is close to Australia and New Zealand), once we all finish our community service, I will book a trip out to NZ and spend a few days exploring that beautiful country too! Even if neither of these seem like good options for you, planning personal vacations are a great idea too! On my agenda, I have Mexico, Jamaica, Colorado (snowboarding!), the Bahamas, Tonga and New Zealand (crossing my fingers I get the trip), Australia, and backpacking through Europe all lined up as places to go over the next couple years. Am I crazy… definitely maybe, but hey, I am writing a blog about traveling, so what else did you expect? 😉

Whether you explore new states in the country or grab a passport and explore the world, traveling is a great way to take a break from your normal everyday life struggles and open up your horizons! Go with friends or go by yourself, but make exploration a priority in your life.. not in a few years, but NOW!


Jenn Hecht ’21