Low salivary flow and Sjögren’s Syndrome

Delayed diagnosis of Sjögren’s Syndrome leads to otherwise preventable, hyposalivation-associated tooth loss. We believe our limited ability to manage caries and oral infections in patients with Sjögren’s Syndrome is related to the delay in diagnosing the condition. Most patients are diagnosed 6.5+ years after the onset of xerostomia and nine years after tooth loss has occurred. Our goal is to develop novel prognostics and therapeutics which can be used to diagnose the early onset of hyposalivation before caries occur. For my dissertation research, I participated in patient outreach to the Sjögren’s community, writing an article and giving talks to patient support groups.

Eggsperiment: A two-day online experiment

Health—and oral health—disparities are associated with lower educational attainment and disparately affect minorities . To raise awareness, I recently published a blog post outlining policy and public health options to address unmet needs . For example, only a small fraction of children receives any form of oral health education in the U.S. As a first step at changing that, I co-led a two-day online science experiment at the NIH. Modifying an ADA experiment, my co-instructor and I used eggs as an experimental model of our teeth. Eggshells are made of calcium carbonate, a substance that is similar to the substance that makes up our teeth. Because of this similarity, we can use eggs as a model to understand how various foods and toothpastes protect or disrupt the integrity of our teeth. This demonstration shows that acidic soft drinks can weaken our teeth. It also shows that fluoride, which can be found in toothpaste, mouth rinse and some tap waters, can protect our teeth.

In the long term I aim to develop a National Tooth Fairy research study that expands on this lab course, providing oral health education to children in zip codes that are medically underserved. Modeling National Tooth Fairy after ‘American Gut’ – but with a public health mission – I will partner with public health agencies, industry, and community providers to reduce inequities in tooth loss.

Scientific Reproducibility

One of the greatest challenges facing scientists today is the ability to replicate research findings. Associated challenges acknowledged by most include making the data and scripts used to analyze data publically available. Additional challenges are inherent in the maturation of any data processing pipeline as the investigator moves from exploratory analysis to publication. I believe dedicating oneself to minimizing these challenges is the responsibility of every researcher. I will teach my students to publish their code with their work. They will be taught that there is no need to be embarassed of their code, no matter how rudimentary. As I go through my old code, I can see today how I would write that code differently. That’s a sign of progress, not an archive of embarassment. Importantly, I have been able to use my old code to teach others principles of effective code writing. I believe publishing pipelines both facilitates reproducibility and increases the accessibility of data science.