Fourth-Year Student Wins ADA Health Literacy Contest

This year's theme emphasized the importance of dental health and overall health

Natasha Patel is a student at the UConn School of Dental Medicine. June 1, 2022 (Tina Encarnacion/UConn Health photo)

Natasha Patel, a fourth-year dental student, was announced the winner of the American Dental Association’s (ADA) annual health literacy essay contest.

The theme for this year was Not Just Teeth: Why The Dental Team Is Essential For My Overall Health. Twenty four dental schools across the United States participated in the contest.

Natasha’s essay was chosen by the ADA’s National Advisory Council on Health Literacy in Dentistry for emphasizing the importance of the oral-systemic connection and how critical regular dental care is to a patient’s overall health.

“Oral health literacy is a barrier to care,” Patel said. “With so many media outlets available at our fingertips, the challenge of spreading misinformation continues. It is the responsibility of dentists to educate patients in a simple and relatable way. Patient-provider trust and communication is essential for the best oral health outcomes and can even encourage more regular dental care and improved oral hygiene practices at home.”

In her essay, Patel outlines the many different ways that a dental provider can detect underlying health issues during routine dental visits,  underscoring the importance of routine check-ups.

“Dentists are specialists of teeth and the oral cavity,” Patel writes in her essay. “Dentists also are trained with an understanding of systemic health and medicine. They are experts on the mouth-body connection. Besides getting you out of tooth pain and creating your perfect smile, dentists play a key role in recognizing when your body is trying to tell you something.”

Dr. Steven Lepowsky, dean of the School of Dental Medicine, said oral health literacy is key to empowering patients to make well-informed decisions about their health.

“As we train students to be competent in managing diverse patient populations in increasingly multicultural work environments, the ability to effectively communicate with patients in plain, easily understood language is of critical importance,” Lepowsky said.

Last year, current fourth-year student Madeline Montenegro placed as a first runner up in the ADA’s health literacy contest with her essay on health misinformation.

Read more on the ADA’s website.