Ryan Stitt and Dr. Ricardo Padilla

On October 12, 2018, I participated in the IPPF Dental Day as part of the 2018 Patient Education Conference. Dental Day was hosted at the UNC Adams School of Dentistry by Drs. Donna Culton and Ricardo Padilla. As a dental student, I found this to be by far the most exciting and enriching experience of my dental school education to date.

Pemphigus and pemphigoid (P/P) patients traveled from different parts of the world to attend the conference. During the Dental Day event, dental and dental hygiene students were put into groups under the supervision of UNC faculty. We performed thorough extraoral (head and neck) and intraoral examinations on P/P patients. We discussed their diseases as they related to oral symptoms and oral care, and learned about the personal implications of living with P/P. Students provided patients with oral hygiene instructions and suggested products and techniques to aid in disease management. We also encouraged them to establish a dental home if they did not already have one.

As students, we learned about using the Nikolsky sign in the oral mucosa to aid in the diagnosis of P/P. In order to help dental students better understand P/P, patients allowed us to poke and prod their oral tissues. The initial examination gave us clues about the type of autoimmune disease that the patient might have, though definitive testing would still be required to confirm a diagnosis.

For me, one particular interview with a patient was impactful. She informed me that she lived in a town where access to medical care is limited. She explained that for the majority of her life, she had no idea what her disease was because pemphigus is such a rare disease, and she was delayed in being diagnosed. The conversation filled me with a feeling of purpose and provided an understanding of what it may be like to treat patients as a dentist specializing in oral disease diagnosis.

Dental Day facilitated a learning experience for both students and patients. For the students who participated, we were fortunate to perform clinical examinations on P/P patients. Patients were also given the opportunity to teach future healthcare providers about their autoimmune conditions. I believe that these types of extracurricular experiences make one’s dental school education truly amazing.

I want to acknowledge the hard work of the faculty and staff for hosting the event at our dental school. I cannot overemphasize what this wonderful experience has given me as a dental student. I am extremely grateful that I was able to meet so many P/P patients and learn firsthand about what it’s like to be afflicted with this type of autoimmune disease. I’d also like to thank the patients who participated and allowed us to learn more about their conditions. Since P/P are such rare and interesting diseases to study, I am hoping to attend the upcoming 2019 Patient Education Conference in Philadelphia in order to continue learning about the latest P/P information and disease management.

Ryan Stitt is a rising third-year dental student at the UNC Adams School of Dentistry. He enjoys treating patients in clinic and participating in group-based extracurricular activities. In his free time, Ryan designs and crafts zip lines at his home and practices playing the guitar.