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Donald L. Chi - May 2015

Donald L. Chi, D.D.S., Ph.D. is associate professor, oral health sciences at the University of Washington School of Dentistry. There, he is also an adjunct associate professor, health services; adjunct associate professor, pediatric dentistry; and a faculty member of the graduate college. 

He earned his A.B. in government and Asian studies from Cornell University; his D.D.S. in dentistry from the University of Washington and his Ph.D. in health services research from the University of Iowa. 

His research interests include dental care utilization for Medicaid-enrolled children with special health care needs; sugar-sweetened beverages and dental caries in Alaska Native children; dental caries in children and adolescents with cystic fibrosis; health care transitions for adolescents with special health care needs; and behavioral determinants of parents saying no to topical fluoride for their children. His scientific findings have been published in many peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Dental Research, and he has authored/co-authored nearly 70 papers.

Since joining AADR in 2004, Chi has remained an engaged member by presenting his research at AADR and IADR meetings, and serving as a program coordinator and symposium organizer for the IADR Pediatric Oral Health Research Group. In 2013 he received the IADR Colgate Community-Based Research Award for Caries Prevention.  

What inspired you to go into dental research?
I studied political science as an undergrad and I’ve always been interested in studying health issues. When I was an undergrad at Cornell I had opportunities to participate in research. After I graduated from college I went to Korea University on a Fulbright to study the effects of the financial crisis on the national health insurance system. That’s really when I began to understand how I could build a career based on my research interests. When I started dental school I knew that I wanted to do research and I had meaningful experiences conducting research on children’s oral health disparities and publishing findings in peer-reviewed journals. Part of the research process included the opportunity to attend and present at my first AADR meeting as a student. It opened my eyes to all the wonderful opportunities in dental research and a lot of important questions that had not yet been answered. From there I developed an interest in pediatric dentistry. I realized that my research interests in health inequity, prevention and policy went hand-in-hand with my interests in clinical pediatric dentistry. 

How was the experience when you attended and presented at your first AADR Annual Meeting?
I attended and presented an oral poster at the 2004 meeting when I was a second year dental student. The presentation focused on access to dental care for children in the New Hampshire Medicaid program. It was a little intimidating because the audience consisted of many well-known scientists in the field. It was a 10-minute presentation and the attendees were extremely interested and supportive, and they asked great questions. My presentation turned into a conversation and that was fun for me. That was my introduction to presenting my work to scientists and since then I’ve had many more positive experiences presenting my findings at meetings. I attribute my initial interest and success to my first presentation at the AADR Annual Meeting.

What would you say to encourage AADR National Student Research Group members to present their research at AADR meetings?
Sometimes when you’re doing your work in the lab or in your office you might feel isolated or feel as though you’re working in a bubble. One of the great things about attending the AADR and IADR meetings is that you meet people who are doing research in your field, and it’s amazing to know that you are actually part of a larger community. I’ve mentored a number of students who I have encouraged to present their findings at the meetings. I think that attending these meetings is an important part of the research dissemination process, and I share that with them. I also let them know that presenting their research at the meetings is a great way to meet potential future collaborators and mentors, especially when you’re just getting started in research. Secondly, it can be tough to find grant funding and to get your research published but perseverance pays off. Students sometimes think of career success as being linear but often times there are setbacks and roadblocks. Career trajectories aren’t always linear so I encourage students to persevere because this is an exciting time to do research. 

What role has cross-collaboration played in your scientific findings?
The interdisciplinary aspect of my research has been critical to moving my work forward in new and interesting ways. My research focuses on the understanding and developing solutions to children’s oral health disparities. At the root of oral health disparities are social inequities, like poverty, homelessness and low health literacy, and suboptimal oral health behaviors. This type of research lends itself naturally to collaborations with colleagues outside of dentistry. That’s why attending the AADR meetings are important because there I’m able to meet collaborators. So many new ideas result from meeting people at the poster sessions and other symposia. 

What is the most valuable benefit of your AADR membership?
There are many factors that make AADR membership valuable—one being the opportunity to attend the annual meeting. Being a member of AADR also means I can participate in the Scientific Groups. I’m part of the IADR Pediatric Oral Health Research Group and within that group there’s a lot of important work that takes place at the meeting, but that work continues between meetings. At the meeting in Boston we put together a symposium on adolescent oral health disparities. That provided an opportunity for symposium presenters to come together before the meeting and share ideas for the presentation and brainstorm future manuscript and grant ideas. Attending the meetings and being part of a scientific group helps me to continue to develop new ideas and make new collaborations. 

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