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Student’s capstone project accepted for publication


The capstone project of a Fall 2020 Pennsylvania College of Technology graduate – on COVID-19 and dental care – has been accepted for publication by the Journal of Dental Hygiene and is being offered as a continuing education opportunity by the American Dental Hygienists’ Association.

Breanna J. Connell, of Easton, received her bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene in December. Her paper – and the related continuing education offering – is titled “COVID-19 and Oral Maintenance.”

“My motivation for this research was to create a one-of-a-kind literature review that discussed a topic that was fresh and new. At the beginning of the pandemic, I found that my coworkers and I did not know proper COVID-19 related protocols,” said Connell, who has been a registered dental hygienist since 2015. “As the protocols were constantly changing, I found the topic to be extremely interesting and knew that researching this topic could improve my career as a dental hygienist.”

Breanna J. ConnellPenn College’s Dental Hygiene Capstone course requires students to apply knowledge through an individually designed project. Connell studied 10 scholarly sources that included poll data, journal articles and COVID-19 related research. Her resulting analysis showed:

  • A link exists between oral health and prevalence of COVID-19. For that reason, proper oral hygiene is more important now than it has ever been.
  • Due to close proximity to individuals, dental professionals are at extremely high risk of contracting COVID-19. Dental professionals must adhere to new guidelines for sanitization and personal protective equipment to ensure safety while performing dental treatment.
  • Although COVID-19 uprooted dentistry as we knew it, it posed an opportunity for dental professionals to focus on prevention rather than typical treatment interventions.
  • Dental professionals are creating innovative techniques to reach their patients during this time, such as teledentistry visits and personalized oral hygiene homecare kits.

In addition to providing infection control guidance for dental professionals, she outlines advice for individuals as they navigate the pandemic, including keeping up good preventive measures – brushing, flossing and rinsing with mouthwash (she notes that studies show the virus is weak to mouthwashes and that reducing oral bacteria reduces the risk of complications, such as pneumonia and sepsis) – and taking extra steps when a household member contracts the virus.

Those extra steps include replacing toothbrushes or sterilizing them before every use, not sharing toothpaste tubes, toothbrush holders, etc., and ensuring that all oral appliances (such as retainers, whitening trays, occlusal guards and toothbrush heads) are pathogen-free before entering the mouth by using the same tablets and liquids sold to sterilize baby products.

While completing her analysis, Connell found several surprises.

“I was shocked at the COVID-19 exposure risk that dental professionals are placed at,” she said. “We are constantly in a cloud of pathogenic aerosols, which makes PPE even more important now than it ever was.”

“Also, I was surprised at how quickly the information changed,” she added. “For instance, articles that were written a mere six months apart contained completely different viewpoints and information regarding the COVID-19 virus.”

“I was thrilled that Breanna’s work from her capstone project was accepted for publication by the Journal of Dental Hygiene,” said Mary Jo Saxe, associate professor of dental hygiene, who taught Connell’s capstone project course. “I enjoyed working with her on this project and the challenges to keep a narrow focus on the impact of COVID-19 as new information constantly became available. Breanna was receptive to suggestions for improvement, and I was so impressed with the end results and her success.”

The Journal of Dental Hygiene, published bimonthly, is the premier, peer-reviewed scientific research publication for dental hygienists.

Connell’s “COVID-19 and Oral Maintenance” course provides two continuing education credits and will remain available through the American Dental Hygienists’ Association through Jan. 31, 2024.

“We are very proud of Breanna’s work,” said Shawn A. Kiser, Penn College’s director of dental hygiene and Connell’s academic adviser.  “Her research will be on the front line of educating dental professionals on COVID-19 for the next several years. The Journal of Dental Hygiene is a very prestigious journal for dental hygienists, and they have strict publication guidelines.  It is a true accomplishment for Breanna’s manuscript to be accepted for publication.”

Connell, who grew up in the Poconos and moved to the Lehigh Valley with her husband three years ago, earned an associate degree in dental hygiene from Northampton Community College in 2015, and shortly after obtaining her licenses, she began work at a dental office that specializes in treating patients with special needs.

“I have been working there for over five years and absolutely love our special-needs clientele,” she said. “Although I love clinical dental hygiene, my goal is to become a dental hygiene professor.”

She toured Penn College while in high school.

“I absolutely loved the campus and the fact that everyone there was working toward a skilled trade such as myself,” she said. “When I decided I wanted to pursue my dream of becoming a dental hygiene professor, I knew that I wanted to go through Penn College to obtain my bachelor’s degree. Penn College has a fantastic reputation, and I knew they could help further my career better than anyone. … I am proud to be part of their alumni now.”

Penn College offers an associate degree in dental hygiene and is one of two higher education institutions in Pennsylvania that offer a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene. Registered dental hygienists, who already hold an associate degree, can complete their bachelor’s degree coursework online. To learn more, call 570-327-4519 or visit the School of Nursing & Health Sciences.

For information about Penn College, a national leader in applied technology education, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.

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