Category: Schoolwide News

The Hispanic Dental Association gets our S.E.A.L. of approval

By Courtney Killough, D.D.S. Class of 2017


On August 21st, Alyssa Gutierrez and I traveled to Las Vegas, Nevada for the 24th Annual Hispanic Dental Association Conference at the Cosmopolitan Hotel. Leaving with nervous excitement and open minds, our goal was to learn as much about the organization, its mission and the process of founding a Hispanic Student Dental Association Chapter at VCU.

The first day began bright and early with personal introductions and a leadership training workshop. Our table included students from Pennsylvania, Georgia, Minnesota, Texas and California – all of whom were incredibly welcoming and willing to help us navigate the conference. During the workshop, we were introduced to the Lominger Competencies: 67 critical aspects of leadership that successful leaders demonstrate through their behaviors. They include qualities like approachability, compassion, timely decision making, delegation, managing diversity, ethics and values, learning on the fly, motivating others, perseverance, self-knowledge and work/life balance. Through small group discussions, we were able to closely examine a few of them and discuss ways that we, as leaders within our schools and communities, could modify our behaviors to better exhibit each characteristic.

We attended many other conference sessions throughout the weekend, but a few in particular were both informative and engaging.  The “Panel on Professional Options” delivered an insightful look at post-doc life. We heard from dentists in private practices, group practices, specialties, public health clinics and academics. One main point echoed throughout the discussion: Dentistry will only feel like a job if you are not passionate about what you are doing or if you lose the sense of privilege associated with the amazing opportunity we are afforded to improve our patients’ lives and our communities. We also had a chance to hear from the HDA President, Dr. Tyrone Rodriguez. His raw honesty and sense of humor captivated us as he delivered a montage of the 10 characteristics of happy and successful dentists. To wrap up the conference, Alyssa and I sat in on the HSDA Chapter Officers Meeting. We took away many great ideas from our contemporaries and established contacts with national HDA representatives that will serve as great resources for us as we move forward with this process.

Truth be told, I was a bit unsure of how my presence at the HDA Conference would be taken. I speak Spanish and have the dark hair, dark eyes and olive complexion common to the ethnicity, but I am not Hispanic. Then, add in the fact that Alyssa Gutierrez, a proud cubana, was representing our school with me. How would I fit into this seemingly exclusive organization? Well, fortunately my fears were entirely unfounded. The conference was filled with dentists and dental students from all different backgrounds: Indians, Asians, African-Americans, Caucasians and Hispanics. The force uniting all of us was much bigger than our ethnic backgrounds, skin colors or first languages. We all connected with the four key cornerstones of the HDA, “S.E.A.L.:” service, education, advocacy and leadership. And, although I came into the weekend feeling like a bit of an outsider, I left feeling like I had found a new home, a new familia within dentistry.

If you are passionate about service, education, advocacy and leadership, then we hope you will consider joining us in our mission to found a Hispanic Student Dental Association Chapter at the VCU School of Dentistry!

Please contact us to find out more. and


VCU collaborates with Univille University on research

(Left to right) Drs. Peter Moon, David Sarrett and Ruben Garcia.
(Left to right) Drs. Peter Moon, David Sarrett and Ruben Garcia.

For four years, Dr. Ruben Garcia, professor of dentistry, has traveled from Univille University Dental School in Joinville, Brazil to the VCU School of Dentistry in the name of research.

As a visiting faculty member, Garcia collaborates with Dr. Peter Moon, biomaterials director, Department of General Practice. Their research focuses on cement bonding to ceramic restorations, and they have made many discoveries in their four years of cooperative investigation.

This year, a significant increase in bond strength stability was measured after one year for ceramic bond surfaces treated with a hot oxidizing air plasma as performed at VCU after an initial hydrofluoric acid etch.

VCU and Univille University recently signed a memorandum of agreement establishing an exchange program through the VCU Office of Global Education. When Garcia visits again next year, he intends to bring several of his students to take part in the collaborative research study.

VCU School of Dentistry residents win research awards

Dr. Erika Lentini and Dr. Matthew Detar
Drs. Erika Lentini and Matt Detar
Dr. Matt Detar received one of 10 research awards at the AAE 2014 Annual Session.
Drs. Al Best, Patrice Wunsch, Erika Lentini and Karan Replogle in front of Lentini’s award-winning poster.

Dr. Matt Detar (D.D.S. ’07) of the Department of Endodontics and Dr. Erika Lentini of the Department of Pediatric Dentistry are about to graduate from their residency programs, and they now can add research awards to their résumés.

Detar received a prestigious research award from the American Association of Endodontists (AAE). During the AAE 2014 Annual Session, he presented his findings on the prevalence of intrapulpally cracked teeth and shared the first-ever classification system, of his design, for intrapulpally cracked teeth. Detar competed with many other residents and faculty to receive one of the 10 monetary awards.

Lentini won the poster presentation at the VCU School of Dentistry 2014 Research and Clinic Day for her landmark work – the first ever pediatric/endodontic clinical research study to be conducted at VCU. Lentini collaborated with another graduating endodontic resident, Dr. Claudia Colorado, to conduct a clinical study that merged the fields of endodontics and pediatric dentistry. She answered the clinical question of the prevalence of vital teeth with radiolucencies in the pediatric population, a heretofore undocumented clinical presentation.

Dr. Karan Replogle, director, Advanced Education Program in Endodontics, served as the research mentor and principal investigator for Detar’s and Lentini’s projects. Dr. Patrice Wunsch, director, Advanced Education Program in Pediatric Dentistry, collaborated with Replogle to form a clinical and research partnership between the two departments.

“These studies represent the alliance that has been formed between the Department of Endodontics and the Department of Pediatric Dentistry,” shared Replogle. “It is our goal to continue to investigate interdisciplinary clinical questions together.”

Guest faculty from Qingdao, China visits VCU

(Left to right) Dean David C. Sarrett, Dr. Berry Yang, Dr. Tom Tang, Dr. Ben Zen, Dr. Judy Zhu and Dr. Steven J. Lindauer, professor and chair, Department of Orthodontics.
(Left to right) Dean David C. Sarrett, Dr. Berry Yang, Dr. Tom Tang, Dr. Ben Zen, Dr. Judy Zhu and Dr. Steven J. Lindauer, professor and chair, Department of Orthodontics.

This spring, the VCU School of Dentistry hosted four visiting dental faculty members from the Stomatological Hospital in Qingdao, China.

Drs. Berry Yang, Judy Zhu, Tom Tang and Ben Zen visited Richmond, Va., in April and May to observe in the clinic and attend lectures. Together, their specialties run the gamut: general dentistry, periodontics, prosthodontics and pediatric dentistry, respectively. During their stay, they had the opportunity to practice their English language skills through interactions with students and faculty – and some of our students had the opportunity to practice their Mandarin!

This visit helped to lay the groundwork for a larger exchange program that will give for two dental students an opportunity to travel to China and perform dentistry at the Stomatological Hospital later this year.

Dr. Steven J. Lindauer, professor and chair, Department of Orthodontics, led the effort to develop this global initiative, building off of his department’s existing global exchange program that sends residents to Italy. Lindauer’s successful proposal for the VCU Quest Global Impact Awards, “School of Dentistry Study Abroad Program in Qingdao, China,” has provided critical funding to support the program.

The exchange program with China has been commended by the university for its “involvement of VCU students in high-impact international research and learning, strong partner institution support and close fit with academic unit priorities.”

We look forward to many more successful visits to and from Qingdao, China in the future.

Classmates remembered through memorial scholarships

The 2014 MCV Campus Reunion took place April 11 through April 13 in Richmond, Va., and nearly 500 alumni and family members converged on campus to celebrate the occasion.

The tradition of reunion giving has become an integral facet of the MCV Campus Reunion. Generous donors over the years have supported their alma mater, its students and other important initiatives to the tune of millions through scholarships and other funds.

This year’s Reunion classes generously gave and pledged contributions exceeding $535,000. Alumni banded together with their classmates to select class fundraising causes, and many classes this year chose to honor the memory of the classmates they have lost.

Three new endowed memorial scholarships were created through reunion giving: the Class of 1969 Memorial Scholarship, the Dr. William Descovich Memorial Scholarship and the Dr. Randal W. King Memorial Scholarship. These funds will live in perpetuity to help deserving students defray the mounting costs of their dental education while immortalizing the alumni for whom the funds are named.

Dr. William J. Descovich (D.D.S. ’94) passed away in 2005. He was married to Carole A. Descovich, a 1991 graduate of the VCU School of Nursing. Together, they had three children.

Dr. Randal W. King (D.D.S. ’89) owned a dental practice in Midlothian, Va., for 17 years until his death in 2011. He is survived by his wife Tanya King (M.B.A. ’87, M.H.A. ’90) and their two sons.

The Class of 1969 chose to remember all of their classmates who have passed away through their memorial scholarship.

Together, the D.D.S. classes of 1969, 1989 and 1994 gave and pledged more than $100,000 to remember their friends and support students in their dreams to become dentists.

Faculty member named service-learning fellow

Tammy Swecker   Dentistry

Tammy Swecker (B.S. ’93, M.Ed. ’05), associate professor, Department of Oral Health Promotion and Community Outreach, has been selected as one of the 2014-2015 VCU Service-Learning Faculty Fellows.

She was selected from a competitive pool of faculty member applicants based on her previous involvement in service-learning and community-engagement as well as a proposed plan for enhancing community-engaged teaching, scholarship and service at the VCU School of Dentistry during the fellowship year.

The VCU Service-Learning Faculty Fellow Program supports faculty who have experience in teaching service-learning classes to improve, document and disseminate their mastery of service-learning to others. Fellows are appointed for one year with the potential of extending their appointment for one additional year and receive a stipend for their participation in the program.

SNDA raises awareness through 5th Annual Oral Cancer Walk

Oral cancer has a fatality rate higher than that of skin, cervical or thyroid cancer, yet the general public is unaware of this cancer. The Student National Dental Association has started an initiative to raise awareness and to provide support for oral cancer research.

On Saturday, April 19, 2014, oral cancer researchers, cancer survivors and their families joined the VCU Student National Dental Association for the 5th Annual Oral Cancer Walk to benefit VCU Philips Institute. Supporters gathered bright and early with enthusiasm to walk Byrd Park’s Landing at Boat Lake for a worthy cause.

The event kicked off with a touching testimony from our keynote speaker, Dania Luby. Luby told the story of her beloved sister Susan who succumbed to her gracious battle with oral cancer in 2004. She was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma of the oropharynx in 2002 after a biopsy performed by her oral surgeon. Luby’s touching testimony demonstrated how the battle against cancer not only affects the patient, but also has a strong impact on loved ones. Luby, who was accompanied by her family and friends, stressed the importance of patient education and early detection.

The next speaker, Patrick Ruck, senior dental student at the VCU School of Dentistry and SNDA member, spoke on the importance of early detection from a clinician’s perspective. He was able to detect squamous cell carcinoma on one of his patients after a thorough and routine head and neck exam.

After these riveting speeches, the walk around Boat Lake began. With support from the Virginia Dental Association, Horsey Orthodontics, Southside Oral and Facial Surgery, Dr. Todd Kitten and Dr. Iain Morgan of the VCU Philips Institute, the SNDA raised more than $2,000 to benefit oral cancer research at the VCU Philips Institute. Thank you to everyone who participated!

Researchers identify key enzyme found in disease-causing bacteria responsible for heart valve disease

By Sathya Achia Abraham
University Public Affairs, VCU Across the Spectrum (

A disease-causing bacterium found in the mouth needs manganese, a trace mineral, in order to cause a serious heart infection, according to a preclinical study led by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University Philips Institute for Oral Health Research in the School of Dentistry.

The findings, which may solve a longstanding mystery of why some bacteria need manganese to cause disease, provide possible new targets for antibiotics.

Read more »



First chair to support program, honor mentor

Dr. A. Omar Abubaker will be the first Bear Chair and the first chair within the VCU School of Dentistry.
Dr. A. Omar Abubaker will be the first Bear Chair and the first chair within the VCU School of Dentistry.

An endowed chair is one of the highest forms of recognition provided by a university to an individual, and the VCU School of Dentistry is proud to officially announce its first endowed chair – the S. Elmer Bear Chair. At its September meeting, the VCU Board of Visitors approved the chair, established with funds totaling $1.1 million.

Previously, the Bear Chair was an endowed professorship within the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. On the thirtieth anniversary of Dr. S. Elmer Bear’s passing, with the leadership of Dr. A. Omar Abubaker, professor and chairman of the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, and the guidance of the VCU School of Dentistry Development Office, several alumni renewed the commitment to honor and preserve the memory of a revered practitioner, educator and mentor. To aid the fundraising effort, Andrea Bear, Bear’s daughter, produced a video tracing his life, his work at VCU and his impact on his chosen profession, which introduced him to a whole new generation of oral surgeons and VCU alumni. The chair will support the residency program’s continued development through recruitment and retention of the best and brightest faculty and residents.

Bear served from 1960 to 1981 as the first chairman and founder of the OMFS residency program. He made a name for himself nationally and internationally and devoted himself to his profession, his fellow oral surgeons and his residents, whom he affectionately thought of as his family.

“The VCU School of Dentistry always meant a lot to Elmer and it meant a lot to me too. Many of our best friends were other oral surgeons from across the country and abroad,” noted Barbara Greenberg, Bear’s widow.

Dr. S. Elmer Bear, 1921 - 1981.
Dr. S. Elmer Bear, 1921 – 1981.

Bear’s children also spent a considerable amount of time at the dental school and around the medical campus. One of Bear’s sons, Dr. Donald Bear, recalled, “We all grew up at MCV, having our turn at making rounds with Dad, so it’s a special connection.”

Another of Bear’s sons, Dr. Harry Bear (M.D. ’75, Ph.D. ’78), grew that connection into a career. Inspired by his father’s passion for patient care, he pursued a medical education and now serves as chairman of the Division of Surgical Oncology at the VCU Massey Cancer Center and professor of surgery and of microbiology and immunology at the VCU School of Medicine. “As a VCU faculty member, this honor of the Bear Chair is especially gratifying,” said Dr. Harry Bear.

“We always knew that Dad’s first love next to his family was his work,” shared Andrea Bear. “He loved teaching students and residents the right approach to difficult problems, and he worked every day for what was best for the specialty and to improve the lives of patients.”

What’s so remarkable about the Bear Chair is that it was kick-started by many of the early residents that Bear trained, like Dr. Ronald L. Tankersley (D.D.S. ’68, OMFS ’71) and Dr. Charles L. Cuttino III (D.D.S. ’66, OMFS ’72), but brought to fruition by residents that came long after his tenure as chairman including recent graduates of the program. These alumni and oral surgeons share Bear’s enthusiasm for the residency program and his commitment to ensuring that the program and the department continue to be among the best in the country. The Bear Chair funding to the program will enhance the educational experience of future residents, while forever keeping Bear’s legacy alive.

As department chairman, Abubaker will be named the inaugural Bear Chair at the VCU Investiture event on March 3. “I am honored and extremely privileged to be the first person to hold the honor in the department and the school,” said Abubaker. “And I’m excited to share the news with alumni, friends and the entire specialty.”


To learn more about how ways to support the Bear Chair, please contact Edward G. Kardos at or (804) 828-0324. Check out a video about Dr. Bear at

Faculty member and alumna inducted into honor society

Tammy Swecker   Dentistry

It is with great pleasure that the Sigma Phi Alpha  honor society announces the induction of Tammy Swecker (B.S. ’93, M.Ed. ’05), associate professor, Dental Hygiene Program, Department of Oral Health Promotion and Community Outreach.

Sigma Phi Alpha is the national honor society of the dental hygiene profession. The organization was founded in 1958 based on scholarship, leadership and character. Other dental hygiene faculty members preceding Swecker in Sigma Phi Alpha include Dr. Joan Pellegrini, Kim Isringhausen, Christy Casella and Michelle McGregor.

Members of the Alpha Alpha Gamma Chapter extend a warm welcome to the well deserving inductee.


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