Explorer Summer 2020 – Campaign


As the reality of COVID-19 became clear and the School of Dentistry realized it would be sending students home, suspending clinics and clearing the building, it knew many in its dental family would have challenges to overcome. Students have seen their carefully laid plans for graduation turned on their sides, many are experiencing anxiety about securing their first jobs, others have been trying to figure out how to pay extra rent while staying in town longer than expected and, of course, like people everywhere, most wonder what changes will come to dentistry to keep everyone safe going forward. Staff and faculty also share these same concerns. Continue reading

Explorer Summer 2020 – Alumni News


Alumni News
Class Notes
In Memoriam

Alumni News

William Giannobile (DDS ’91) will become the new dean of the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, starting Sept. 1. An outstanding educator and leader in the field of periodontology, Dr. Giannobile is an endowed professor and chair of the Department of Periodontics and Oral Medicine at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry and also a professor of biomedical engineering at the university’s College of Engineering and the Biointerfaces Institute. Continue reading

Explorer Summer 2020 – Board Leadership


New Board Leadership

Spring of 2020 marks the time for new leadership on the three alumni boards that serve the UMKC School of Dentistry: Roy J. Rinehart Memorial Foundation, Dental Alumni Association and the Dental Hygienist Alumni Association. The school has immense gratitude for the outgoing leaders for their guidance during such unprecedented times. Continue reading

Explorer Summer 2020 – Digital Dentistry


Preparing practitioners for the future

Beginning with an early push into digital x-rays, as well as having the first comprehensive electronic patient record chairside in a dental school, the UMKC School of Dentistry has long instilled an innovative spirit in their students. Today, that continues with the school’s drive into the era of modern dentistry.

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Explorer Summer 2020 – Facing a Pandemic


In face of pandemic, school retools to continue its mission

“Adversity does not build character; it reveals it.”
                                                   James Lane Allen, American novelist

In mid-March, the coronavirus pandemic ended business as usual at the School of Dentistry, closing classrooms and clinics.

But the school never faltered in its educational mission – or its commitment to May graduation for the class of 2020. And as May turned into June, and after more than two months of revamping curriculum and processes, and adjusting facilities, the school began its slow, phased reopening of dental clinics and the safe return of students.

“It has been a lot of hard work by a lot of great people,” said Dean Marsha A. Pyle. “Conditions changed daily, and continue to evolve, so we don’t know what the future will bring. But I’m so proud of how everyone has kept working and learning to complete classes and to rethink and update how we meet our missions.”

Taking it from the top

With the school and clinics closed, and students and faculty shifted to online learning, the dean and her team met daily to plan for reopening. And Dr. Connie White, a key member of the team, assembled a group to help get the work done, including experts in infection control and emergency medicine.

“Reopening clinics with more than 300 students and staff is a whole other matter. Our clinics served 65,000 patients last year.”
Dr. Connie White

It was a big task to figure out how much clinical training could be replaced with online exercises, and how much would have to be made up when the school reopened.

“I tell students interested in dentistry that it’s like driving. You can’t learn to parallel park by reading the driver’s manual,” said White, who is an associate professor, interim associate dean for clinical programs, and assistant dean for community relations and communication. “We have been able to simulate many lessons online, through case studies of patients with different conditions. But much of dentistry and dental hygiene must be learned by doing.”

So, right after Memorial Day, some students began returning to complete spring semester work, including about one-third of the graduating dental class, White said. They will work to finish patient treatments that had to be suspended, such as fitting dentures or installing permanent crowns. The school also started scheduling non-emergency patients who had to wait several weeks to have work completed. (Throughout the shutdown, three faculty dentists continued to see emergency patients.)

“But reopening clinics with more than 300 students and staff is a whole other matter,” White said. “Our clinics served 65,000 patients last year.”

The school has put many precautions in place. The pre-clinical lab has gone to three shifts to help spread out students and keep safe distances between them. Scheduling has changed to shorten wait times and reduce patient loads in the waiting area, where easily disinfected and well-spaced plastic chairs have replaced cloth-covered ones. Patients will be called the night before an appointment to make sure they are well, and they will be screened on arrival, including a temperature check.

In the clinic, 30 aerosol suctioning units are being added to quickly remove water droplets generated during dental or hygiene work. A bipolar ionization filtration system, which kills viruses, has been added to the heating and air-conditioning system. And the school, which donated its PPE — personal protective equipment — at the outset of the shutdown to area hospitals, is replenishing its supplies of N95 masks, face shields and other gear as fast as it can.

“All the dental schools are facing the same challenges,” White said. “We ordered replacement PPE as soon as we donated ours. It’s a waiting game.”

And as students and patients return, everyone in the building is wearing face coverings. Patients use one entrance; faculty, staff and students use another, with their swipe cards recorded to aid contact tracing should it be found later that someone in the building tested positive for the coronavirus.

The school has been aided in reopening by safety guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the American Dental Association and the Academy of General Dentistry.

As Dean Pyle said, “We are reopening carefully, with safety as our focus.”

Students focus on learning – and graduating

No one looks forward to a root canal. But learning how to perform one? That’s pretty exciting, said Kevin Mattingly, a second-year dental student who was in the midst of midterms and working on root canal procedures in his endodontics class when the school had to shift gears.

“To know I’m in the process of refining a skill that can impact someone so much is truly exciting and makes us students ready to get back to work now that the school is reopening,” he said.

According to Mattingly, the school’s administrators, professors and student representatives of his class have done a good job of communicating, especially when conditions were changing rapidly.

“Our professors really adjusted well. I am sure some of them never imagined in a million years they would have to teach a dentistry class completely online, but they were able to answer all our questions through Zoom. I think we learned as much as we could given the circumstances and maybe even as much as we would have in person.”

Mattingly also had a secret weapon.

“The hardest part for me was to stay organized with our schedule, when plans were always changing,” he said. “Luckily, I was stuck in quarantine with my twin sister, who is also in my dental class. She made sure I was on top of things, and sometimes I made sure she was on top of things. I think a lot of us had another student or multiple other students that we stayed in close contact with, whether it be through Zoom or messaging or whatever, to make sure no one was left behind.”

Classmates also helped dental hygiene student Abbey Hartley keep going and graduate on time with the rest of her class of 2020.

Hartley was busy screening potential patients for hands-on board certification exams when they were canceled in mid-March, raising anxiety at the same time she and her classmates no longer could be together. The students had no choice, though, but to support one another and move forward.

“Being with the same 28 young women every day for two years builds great relationships. We kept in touch and made sure we were all hanging in there.”
Abbey Hartley, president, DH Class of 2020

“Being with the same 28 young women every day for two years builds great relationships. We kept in touch and made sure we were all hanging in there,” said Hartley.

As for certification, the clinical exams have been reset for late June. And there won’t be live patients this year, as a coronavirus precaution. Hartley was encouraged when professors emphasized that dental and dental hygiene students had already performed the tests’ procedures on patients in clinic many times during their years at the dental school. She said her classmates were ready to pass any test and join the workforce.

“I know we will all make amazing dental hygienists,” she said. “I am staying positive because I know I have had a great education at UMKC.”

Making things even safer

Just as everyone at the school has been working to keep students on track, alumni have been busy preparing for a return to more normal practice levels. For Matt Niewald, DDS ’01, that has meant upgrading safety equipment and procedures, along with remodeling his Lakewood Dental Center in Lee’s Summit, Missouri.

“We’ve done a lot of training on using masks and other personal protective equipment,” said Niewald, a solo practitioner whose staff of a half-dozen includes hygienists, dental assistants and front-office staff. “We’ve also repainted and remodeled, and the staff has been fully involved in everything.”

Niewald’s staff was on unemployment only briefly, thanks to his loan through the federal Paycheck Protection Program. “It’s been a lifesaver,” he said. “I really didn’t have a choice but to apply for the aid, and it was great to be able to get everyone back in the office.”

“We’ve done a lot of training on using masks and other personal protective equipment.”
Dr. Matt Niewald

Besides perfecting their skills with a paint roller, Niewald said, his staff members helped figure out how to efficiently screen patients in the parking lot — with a thermometer and a quick questionnaire — and then get them to their dental chair, avoiding stops in the waiting room or spending long times in their cars. He also is using high-speed air evacuation systems, and disinfectant fogging between patients. Because his practice is small, his operatories are in separate rooms with doors, which helps with infection control.

As Niewald and his colleagues have stayed connected throughout the shutdown to support each other and share ideas, one conversation stands out. Talking with a former faculty member and mentor who is in private practice now, they recalled how the school was always strong on the importance of infection control.

“Now,” says Niewald, “all of our improvements are just building on that.”

Mother and Daughter Weathered Isolation Together

Linda and Leila Seabaugh made the best of their months away from the School of Dentistry, and they did it under the same roof. Linda, DDS ’88, teaches mainly in clinic and the pre-clinical lab. Her daughter Leila, DDS Class of 2023, is wrapping up her first year as a dental student.

For Linda Seabaugh, it was good to have time to work on continuing education and faculty development courses, and to complete the UMKC Faculty Online Certification, which she will need for teaching a lecture course in the fall.

“The last two months have been very productive, but working in the same space day after day gets old! I really, really missed my colleagues and students,” she said. “I knew I would, but I didn’t know HOW MUCH I would miss them. Generally speaking, I am challenged by almost all technology, so I’m very happy that I have been able to learn Zoom and other online technology without too much difficulty.”

For Leila Seabaugh, living at home had its advantages, including an in-house faculty member who could answer some of her questions. Having more control of her schedule was a mixed matter – allowing her to spend more time on what she thought was important, but missing the discipline of having to show up in person for lecture classes. There were outright disadvantages, too, from a power outage and occasionally shaky Internet service to her father’s not-so-quiet workshop.

“My family isn’t too noisy for the most part,” she said. “But my dad’s workshop is right below my room and I don’t think he realizes how much the sound travels. So during a final I was trying to stomp on the floor to tell him, Hey, I’m taking a test.”
Returning to the pre-clinical lab last week was challenging, too. “I knew I would be rusty, but procedures that I thought I was getting better at before quarantine were significantly harder and looked way worse than they did before we left. The pre-clinical lab is great, though, and it’s nice to get an idea of what it’s going to be like to work on real patients and start practicing that already.”

Now, mother and daughter are looking forward to the fall semester, though they aren’t sure yet exactly how classes will be offered, whether online or as hybrids. And they won’t have quite the togetherness, as Leila and her sister, who will be starting at the UMKC School of Law, just moved into a rental house with another roommate.

Graduation brings Class of 2020 together online

The nearly 150 members of the UMKC School of Dentistry Class of 2020 received their degrees Friday evening with online pomp and circumstance.
Messages from the chancellor, provost, class presidents, dean and alumni offered congratulations, praise and encouragement. A baker’s dozen advanced students received their doctorates, master’s degrees and specialty certificates, followed by 104 doctors of dental surgery and 29 bachelors of dental hygiene. A special ceremony inducted three of the dental graduates into the U.S. military dental corps. And two students and two faculty members received special awards.

The word “unprecedented” came up several times, given the necessity to make it an online event as a safeguard against spread of the coronavirus. It was a graduation ceremony with everything except the crowd.

A Zoom chat room before the 7 p.m. event gave students a chance to connect with one another and with the dean, faculty and staff. Then a UMKC Conservatory student, Anthony Varner, sang “The Star Spangled Banner” to open the official ceremony.

Chancellor C. Mauli Agrawal offered congratulations and said the Class of 2020 had “proven your ability to adapt to unforeseen circumstances and to excel.” Provost Jennifer Lundgren and David Suchman, DDS 2000, followed with brief remarks.

Dean Marsha A. Pyle spoke movingly of the Class of 2020’s challenges and accomplishments, and she thanked faculty members for answering their call to “teach, mentor, stretch and support” the students.

“This is a night for looking forward as we have all been through the darkest of days in the last two months,” Dean Pyle said. “This evening you emerge with your mission accomplished, wiser for your efforts, your study, your hard work and motivation; wiser and more resilient because there was no other choice.

“I am so proud of you! We have learned so much about each other in the last two months. We have learned of your struggles to finish, your motivation to get it done, anxiety about if and when today would happen, in addition to the additional personal challenges many of you faced.

“It took courage and courageous leadership. Your advocacy and collaborations for the benefit of each other has been noticed. Well done!”

Dean Pyle also gave out her awards for academic distinction, for being first in their class, to Matt Bryant, DDS, and KeShawnda Frisby, BSDH.

The class presidents gave remarks in addition to presenting awards for the faculty members their classmates voted as having the greatest influence on them.

The DH class president, Abbey Hartley, said she was so proud of her dental hygiene classmates’ positivity and adaptation, and she thanked their DDS classmates for their advice and camaraderie. Of the many great faculty members who received votes, she said, Ashley Ryan (BSDH ’16) came out on top. Ryan, who served in the U.S. Marines and joined the faculty as a clinical adjunct instructor, is a great motivator, Hartley said, and always showed the class how to care and be strong.

Fred Drummond, DDS class president, had the joke of the evening. Being a dental student, he said, he had to take this last opportunity to complain: The online ceremony had removed his last chance to avoid having to address everyone at graduation.

Then Drummond summoned the memory and spirit of Dr. Jake McGuire, DDS, PHD, the beloved faculty member who passed away in October 2018, with his quotation: “I am only a reflection of the many mentors I have had throughout the years.” Drummond said his classmates benefited from Dr. McGuire and many other faculty mentors through their strength, compassion and resilience.

Like Hartley, Drummond said his classmates had voted for several outstanding faculty members, reflecting strength throughout the program. In the end, he said, Dr. Connie White was the winner. Drummond said his classmates noted her national leadership in dentistry and her many contributions at the School of Dentistry. Quoting a classmate, Drummond said, “She’s really just the most phenomenal human.”

Dean Pyle then introduced the conferring of degrees, and each student and his or her accomplishments read as their portrait was shown. If a student submitted photos and remarks, those also were displayed, giving classmates and family another chance to see and celebrate the graduates.

A special ceremony, captured on videotape, also was shown for the three Class of 2020 students entering the Army or Navy dental corps: Drummond and Dylan Love, as captains in the U.S. Army, and Michael Smith, as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy.

Dean Pyle and Chancellor Agrawal wrapped up the ceremony, along with words from Dr. Nick Rogers, DDS ’78, who welcomed the school’s newest alumni by encouraging them to be kind, compassionate and involved, and to form relationships with everyone along their way.

Find a recording of the event on the UMKC Commencement page or a direct link to the School of Dentistry ceremony here.