Student Research Analyzes Dental Disparities

August 13, 2019

Houston, Texas native Alexa Montemayor landed a job as a dental assistant in Rochester for the summer, but she was also looking for an opportunity to stay engaged with Fisher in between semesters. Working with faculty mentor Professor Jonathan Millen, visiting assistant professor of biology, she secured a spot in the College’s Summer Research Fellows program and combined her day job and her research.

Alexa Montemayor poses at work in a dentist office.

Montemayor is a Spanish major, and a triple minor studying biology, chemistry, and sociology with plans to attend dental school. Her experiences and interest in both the social and natural sciences left her wanting to tie the two together in a way that might benefit the Rochester community. Through her research, she is looking to find data that portrays dental insurance as a necessity to all social classes as certain social and cultural factors may allow one class to be more prone to dental issues and oral diseases.

She conducts her research on the job as a dental assistant, using the opportunity to learn more about her patients’ oral health during their visit and then following up with them to complete her survey. After hours, she analyzes their responses and collects additional data. Her long-term goal is that her findings can be used to educate dental professionals in Rochester about potential trends that leave their patients more prone to poor oral health. She hopes that this data in the future can help prevent dental caries – or tooth decay - that may be caused by factors many don’t consider relative to dentistry. 

“I am using many theories and subjects discussed in my sociology classes as inspiration for the topics being explored. We study them in textbooks based off of general populations, but it’s interesting to apply them to Rochester specifically,” she said.

For Millen, he enjoys the commonality he finds with students who are interested in pursuing research, even if it doesn’t directly tie to his own work.

“Research in and of itself is highly valuable for a student’s development.  It allows students to take what they learn in class, expand on it, and potentially add to the overall pool of human knowledge,” he said. “I really appreciate the chance to work with students with unique ideas or methods they want to work out.”

Montemayor said that the experience so far has been unpredictable, inspiring, and rewarding.

“I am learning that being able to adapt is very important in the process. Although we set a plan and establish certain goals, it is important to take unexpected data or results into consideration, as this sparks new ideas,” she said. “Being a part of this program helps has given me experience in structured research and allows me to build connections with mentors that are familiar with the professional world.”