Bast, Olson win prestigious journalism awards

Kendall Bast, RDH, BSDH and Alyssa Olson, MSDH

Two Dental Hygiene alumnae received the American Dental Hygienists’ Association’s prestigious Sigma Phi Alpha Excellence in Journalism awards, the organization announced in June.

Kendall Bast, a 2020 BSDH graduate, won the ADHA Sigma Phi Alpha Excellence in Journalism Award for Undergraduates for her paper, “End Stage Renal Disease: Knowledge, Attitudes, and Perceptions of Dental Hygiene and Dental Therapy Students.” Alyssa Olson, an MSDH 2020 graduate, won the same award for graduate students for her study, “A Pilot Study to Identify the Association Between Oral Health Literacy and Periodontal Health.”

Bast became interested in the topic of end-stage renal disease after it was covered in a lecture during her time in the dental hygiene program. Her family has a history of kidney disease, and she recognized how important it is for providers to understand the patients they’re treating. She started with a literature review on end-stage renal disease, which Miranda Drake, MSDH, RF, encouraged her to turn into a survey of dental hygiene and dental therapy students.

She explored her classmates’ understanding and perceptions of patients with end stage renal disease, finding that students are passionate about the topic but aren’t overly familiar with the disease or its implications for patients. Bast hopes this knowledge will foster a better understanding of the disease among providers. "If we are going to put dental hygienists in non-conventional health care settings (like hospitals), they need to be prepared with proper information on treating certain health conditions,” she said.

“As hygienists, we’re communicators. We care about the people we take care of,” Bast continued. Knowing the connections between oral health and overall health is so important when we talk about collaboration between the dental and medical fields.”

Bast was “shocked” when she received the award. “I knew I worked really hard on it, but I was just excited to have learned along the way and put out something I was proud of,” she explained.

Looking forward, Bast hopes to publish her research, and hopes it will encourage schools to “take the time to teach students about different conditions.” She sees her win as a reminder that, “if you’re passionate about something and you find a great opportunity, you should take it. You might surprise yourself.”

Olson’s research is inspired by her work as a dental hygienist. After she graduated with her BSDH from Minnesota State University, Mankato, her work in a federally qualified health center opened her eyes to the needs of populations without private insurance, who often need more oral health care. She discovered the need for greater oral health literacy and realized her passion for education.

“I look forward to sharing my research with future students, so they too can understand the importance of oral health literacy and its effects on poor oral health outcomes,” she explained.

Olson found herself surprised when she received the ADHA’s award, for which her advisor Priscilla Flynn, DrPH, MPH, encouraged her to apply. “I knew this research on oral health literacy was important,” she explained, “but I didn’t think I would get the award!”

Olson said she’s “honored and humbled” to receive the award, but she’s most excited for the opportunity to publish her research within the Journal of Dental Hygiene and increase an understanding of the value of oral health literacy among dental hygienists.

With about 50% of the population experiencing periodontal disease, Olson stressed the need for providers to “think outside the box” to lower the rate of disease.

“The goal is not to improve the oral health literacy of patient populations,” she explained, “but to improve our educational strategies as healthcare providers.” That might look like including visuals and creating culturally competent strategies when educating patients.

“These system-level factors need to be assessed within the healthcare setting, rather than placing that burden on the patient.”

Like Bast, Olson looks forward to embracing her research as she moves forward in her career. She’ll join Normandale Community College as a professor this fall.

Bast and Olson were recognized at this summer’s ADHA Annual Conference in June.