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2021 Winner’s Circle

Congratulations to the members of the 2021 Winner’s Circle!

Leticia Chaves de Souza, DDS, MS, PhD: Spring 2021 Highest-Scoring Faculty Proposal

Dr. Souza earned her dental degree from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2004. She has a Master’s degree in Endodontics and a PhD degree in Materials Science, and joined the UTHealth School of Dentistry as Assistant Professor in 2017.

Her research focuses on the physical, chemical, mechanical and biological properties of endodontic materials and instruments, as well as understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying apical periodontitis (AP).

The aim of this study is to verify the expression of neutrophils extracellular traps (NET) in different stages of AP development using an in vivo experimental model of AP. NET are networks of extracellular fibers that bind to pathogens allowing neutrophils to mobilize and kill microorganisms, and the role of neutrophils and NETs in AP development is not fully understood.

Dr. Souza hypothesizes that endodontic infection might result in an imbalance in the expression of NET, accounting for different clinical outcomes in AP. Her research is significant to endodontics in that it will provide useful information to establish the role of neutrophils in different stages of apical periodontitis development, which will contribute to a better understanding of the pathogenesis of this disease.

“Apical periodontitis is the primary condition that we treat as endodontists. Therefore, it is important that we fully understand the molecular mechanisms underlying apical periodontitis development and healing”, says Souza.

Dr. Souza believes her research will have the potential to contribute to the development of future diagnostic and targeted precision health-based treatment strategies for apical periodontitis.

She has published several peer-reviewed manuscripts in endodontics and one book chapter in endodontic filling materials. She also enjoys working with dental students and endodontic residents. In her free time, Dr. Souza enjoys hiking, traveling with family and friends, and going to the movies.


Han Na Cho, DMD: Spring 2021 Highest-Scoring Resident Proposal

During her general practice residency in New York City Dr. Cho experienced the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic first-hand. This exposure had a significant impact on her decision to focus her research on COVID-19’s effects on dental pulp at the University of Texas in Houston.

There has been evidence that COVID-19 is associated with vascular alterations, higher levels of inflammatory mediators and increased risk of blood clotting with elevation in coagulation markers. However, there is limited data on its impact on the dental pulp tissue. Since the dental pulp is a highly vascularized tissue connected with the oral environment, Dr. Cho has hypothesized that COVID-19 would induce alteration in the cellularity and vascularization of the dental pulp.

“As endodontists, we encounter many patients who come to us with pain, so it is important for us to have a basic foundation and appreciation of the science behind the signs and symptoms our patients experience,” she says. “Having that awareness will translate into providing optimal care for our patients. Given the limitations of endodontic literature in viral diseases, especially COVID-19, I’m really excited to be able to share my findings with the community when the outcome is finalized.”

In terms of methodology, her research involves collecting pulp tissue of individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 within the last six months to tissue of individuals who have not been exposed. She will be conducting a molecular study to investigate whether any changes are seen in the levels of inflammatory and coagulation markers, such as IL-1β, TNF-α, IL-6, IFN-γ, PEAR-1 and D-dimer.

“In terms of the tissue quality itself, we’ll be looking at the predominant cell types, morphology and density of blood vessels and compare the groups for possible alterations caused by the virus.”

Dr. Cho believes her research will provide insight into the biological effects of COVID-19 and have important implications for the clinical practice of endodontics regarding the predictability of disease progression.

“If suspected alteration is seen in the cellularity and vascularization, then we may need to advise patients to follow up immediately for care so that we can prevent further progression of endodontic disease,” she says.

In addition, she will be collecting information on the presence and severity of dental pain by using a visual analog scale. She believes there may be some implications as to whether having a previous infection with COVID-19 can alter the quantity, quality, duration and extent of pain. She hopes the findings will be of value in modifying treatment approaches to improve the oral health of patients who have recovered from COVID-19.

In her free time Dr. Cho enjoys watching Korean dramas, going out for bubble tea and exploring new restaurants. She also enjoys spending quality time with her family, friends, and boyfriend.

Dr. Cho would like to sincerely thank the Foundation, her professors and research and clinical mentors, Dr. Ariadne Letra and Dr. Timothy Kirkpatrick, for providing her with this platform to transform her interest, passion, and curiosity into this research project.


Austyn C. Grissom, DMD: Fall 2021 Highest-Scoring Resident Proposal

Dr. Austyn C. Grissom is a resident at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Dentistry. His study is the first of its kind: combining the precision of cone beam computed tomography (CBCT) with the latest image segmentation techniques to assess orthodontically induced external root resorption (OIERR) in three dimensions. The purpose of this study is to quantify the change in surface area and volume of vital and root-filled teeth in an adult population following comprehensive orthodontic treatment (COT).

Since Reitan’s work in the early 1970s investigating extracted human premolars, OIERR has been understood as a three-dimensional phenomenon. Until recent years CBCT was not widely available in dentistry, causing most of the available evidence on this entity to stem from two-dimensional imaging analyses. Though several recent studies have utilized CBCT to report on OIERR, these studies have continued to employ single linear measurements like that of two-dimensional studies. Dr. Grissom’s project embraces an all-new approach to fully utilize the information that is available to clinicians through CBCT imaging.

Dr. Grissom’s innovative workflow will provide us with a long-overdue opportunity to investigate the three-dimensional nature of OIERR in both vital and root-filled teeth. This retrospective analysis will look at a group of adults undergoing COT that have one or more teeth with a history of root canal treatment (RCT) each possessing a corresponding contralateral tooth without RCT. The surface area and volume of the study teeth will be calculated before and after COT and analyzed. Dr. Grissom’s hypothesis is that teeth with a history of RCT experience less severe OIERR than is seen in their vital counterparts.

In addition to providing further understanding of OIERR, Dr. Grissom hopes that this project will inspire others to utilize the data from CBCT to its full potential.

“The use of CBCT imaging in dentistry has literally unlocked a new dimension of understanding with regards to our treatment outcomes. As we continue to embrace new clinical technology, we must utilize it to push the envelope so that we can provide better care for our patients and ultimately save more teeth,” said Dr. Grissom, and that he feels privileged to have Dr. Tim Kirkpatrick as his Program Director and mentor for this project.

“Dr. K has had an incredible impact on my career- because of his influence, evidence-based endodontics is all that I know.”

Dr. Grissom’s personal interests include traveling to new places, the automotive industry, live music, being near any body of water, and playing board games. He and his wife enjoy hiking and were able to visit seven of the U.S. National Parks together in 2021. They have a German Shepherd, Callie, who is named after their home in Alabama: Calhoun County. Dr. Grissom serves as a member of the AAE Resident and New Practitioner Committee and is also an active member of the American Dental Association, Texas Dental Association, Greater Houston Dental Society, and the University of Alabama School of Dentistry Alumni Association.