Vital Record http://news.tamhsc.edu Your source for health news from the Texas A&M Health Science Center Fri, 31 Oct 2014 21:15:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Chords of healing http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=chords-of-healing http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=chords-of-healing#comments Fri, 31 Oct 2014 21:01:49 +0000 http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=21899 When Ashley Smith, a third-year dental student at Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry, isn't treating patients in the clinic, she can be found at the Baylor Sammons Cancer Center next door to the college, playing piano for patients and their families as part of the hospital's Healing Arts Program]]>

As a third-year dental student at Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry, most of Ashley Smith’s days are spent treating patients in the clinic. On the rare occasion Smith is gifted with a bit of spare time, she knows exactly what to do: Stride down the hall of the college’s first floor to where TAMBCD and Baylor University Medical Center intersect. Take the hospital elevator to the second floor, and breeze through the sky bridge to the Baylor Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center. Grab the keys hanging in the mezzanine-level office, and descend the stairs to the lobby. Sit at the bench, and crack open the baby grand.

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Third-year dental student Ashley Smith at the Baylor Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center in Dallas

When Smith’s hands glide across the keys, the number of listeners can swell to nearly 2,000 throughout the duration of any given performance, according to Benny Barrett, volunteer coordinator for the hospital’s Healing Arts Program, in which music is brought to cancer patients and their families in open-air, informal settings.

“If you sit down by Ashley when she is on the piano, and you look up, people will be shoulder to shoulder on the balcony above,” Barrett says. “On chemo day, patients can walk around with their pumps. You’ll literally see 14 to 30 people with their pumps, leaning over, looking.”

Smith — who has played classical piano since she was 5 — parlayed her affinity toward the Sammons Center’s calming environment into a volunteer music gig in spring 2014. She was eating lunch at the center’s cafe when the sound of the piano on auto-play caught her attention. She asked around, discovered Barrett’s name and inquired if the program needed another volunteer musician.

“I said, ‘That’s great, can you play?’” recalls Barrett, who suggested an impromptu audition at the chapel piano downstairs. “Eight bars into it, I was ready to put her on the schedule.”

Volunteers play for two-hour sets, and Smith signs up for those slots when summer breaks permit. Clinic and dental school coursework consume most of her time, so she and Barrett have a new agreement: Whenever Smith has time, whether it’s for 10 minutes or 45, all she needs to do is take the keys from his office, unlock the piano and play.

The time is as valuable to Smith as it is to the patients and their families.

“With dentistry, we’re working with our hands doing these skills we have never done before,” Smith says. “When I play piano, it reminds me I am in control of my hands. It makes me remember I can do this. I take that feeling back to the clinic, back to the lab. I feel like it trains my hands to do what my brain wants it to do. It helps my hands build the manual dexterity needed for dental work.”

The foundations for Smith’s love of piano were laid during her childhood in Pine Bluff, Ark. Her mother, the choir director at their church, encouraged Smith to play and signed her up for lessons. Soon enough, Smith was teaching classmates and performing during children’s mass at her school. By the time high school rolled around, she played piano during Sunday services.

These days, Smith branches out from her classical environs and gravitates toward modern music including ballads, inspirational pieces and songs with religious undertones.

“My focus is to give cancer patients hope and relaxation, to give them a break from what they may be going through,” says Smith. “I could only imagine having to wait for those appointments. Waiting to hopefully get good news. It’s kind of scary, with what to expect, and to have to sometimes wait hours for that kind of an appointment.”

Back in the dental clinic, a refurbished iPod, some headphones and a Spotify app allow Smith to introduce the calming effects of music during appointments. Her patients can listen to their preferred genre throughout their care.

She may be on to something.

The Healing Arts program at Baylor University Medical Center — also home to medical students as part of the Texas A&M Health Science Center Dallas campus — is one of several success stories nationwide. Inspired from established music therapy models at the Cleveland Clinic and New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the Sammons program includes bedside music performance for inpatients, provided by a certified staff musician when the treating physician prescribes.

Volunteer musicians like Smith help fill in the gaps to create a healing environment within the entire building. The music helps boost coping skills, relaxation, and distraction from pain while reducing anxiety. Patients and family members alike can benefit from the sweet strains and melodies, whether they are at the center for treatment or diagnostic services.

Barrett witnesses the program’s impact every day.

“Walking off that elevator, people are just in a daze,” Barrett says. “They’ll sit down and just dissolve into tears or get that thousand-yard stare. Thirty minutes later, they’re essentially kissing the feet of the performers, thanking them for getting them through that first initial period.”

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Texas A&M pharmacy offers specialized rotation in drug addiction http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=texas-am-pharmacy-offers-specialized-rotation-in-drug-addiction-2 http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=texas-am-pharmacy-offers-specialized-rotation-in-drug-addiction-2#comments Fri, 31 Oct 2014 19:23:58 +0000 http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=21896 The Texas A&M Rangel College of Pharmacy will offer an elective to students in substance abuse Advance Pharmacy Practice Experiential (APPE) rotations at the South Texas Substance Abuse Recovery Services (STSARS) in Corpus Christi as an option for professional student pharmacists who are interested in treating addictions]]>

Drug abuse is a problem that is faced by millions of Americans every day. According to a survey conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse in 2011, an estimated 22.5 million Americans 12 or older—or 8.7 percent of the population—had used an illicit drug or abused a psychotherapeutic medication in one month. That number was up from 8.3 percent in 2002.

Texas A&M Health Science Center Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy faculty and staff understands the importance of professional student pharmacists learning about addiction so they can put that knowledge into practice by serving as a resource for patients and their family members facing such situations.

Bree Watzak, Pharm.D., assistant professor of pharmacy practice, takes students to a week-long program on alcoholism and other drug dependencies at the University of Utah School of Medicine each summer. The experience challenges students both emotionally and professionally, as they are able to see how addiction truly works by sitting in on 12-step programs and group therapy sessions of addicts, learning that addiction is not purely a choice of an individual, it becomes a disease.

The program allowed students to see addiction from the perspective of others, while expanding their knowledge of the disease, using innovative strategies and methods. Each student participant was made aware of the signs of drug addiction and that ultimately, anyone from any background could suffer from the disease.

As an option for professional student pharmacists who are interested in treating addictions, the Texas A&M Rangel College of Pharmacy will offer an elective to students in substance abuse Advance Pharmacy Practice Experiential (APPE) rotations at the South Texas Substance Abuse Recovery Services (STSARS) in Corpus Christi.

Students who take this course as an APPE elective will gain an appreciation of the disease model of drug addiction. This six-week experience will serve as the culmination of an experience that will give students a glimpse of the other side of drug addiction, the illicit use of both prescription and street drugs. This is a unique pharmacy program offered to very few professional students and will allow for a niche in their education and pharmacy practice opportunities.

“My colleagues and I wanted to get the students from the Texas A&M Rangel College of Pharmacy involved in learning about substance abuse,” said Ron Garza, R.Ph., pharmacist at DeLeon’s Pharmacy and a preceptor for the college. “That way, when they get out in their own practice, they’ll understand the behavior of true addicts. They will be able to know what to do if they run into someone with these behaviors, because it is a very critical area and they can be involved in intervention techniques.”

Though many families experience addicts in their lives, they only understand the physical and emotional aspects of drug dependency, never the chemical side. The program allowed professional student pharmacists to see how a single chemical can change someone and their personality.

Students will learn that overcoming an addiction is something that has to be done progressively. With the newfound knowledge, students can fight side-by-side with those facing a daily battle with addiction.

“I was truly inspired and impressed by students who are interested in substance abuse and addiction,” Garza said. “I attended a program at the University of Utah School of Medicine and was moved by them and the fact that they seemed to have a spiritual experience. We have to keep students like these going, as they are getting into something magnificent. They will be great citizens and professional pharmacists.”

Students who are interested in preventing addiction, identifying those who are addicted, and reaching out to families of drug abuse and offer support can receive hands-on training through this program. More than anything, professional student pharmacists will be able to assist people who are suffering with addiction and help them to become loving friends and family members again.

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Orji awarded $10,000 International Peace Scholarship http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=orji-awarded-10000-international-peace-scholarship http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=orji-awarded-10000-international-peace-scholarship#comments Fri, 31 Oct 2014 17:12:30 +0000 http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=21892 Chinelo Orji receives the International Peace Scholarship from the Philanthropic Educational Organization (PEO)]]>
Chinelo Orji

Chinelo Orji

Chinelo Orji, a graduate student at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, recently received the International Peace Scholarship from the Philanthropic Educational Organization (PEO). The organization is devoted to supporting the education of women through scholarships, grants and awards. The $10,000 International Peace Scholarship is awarded to female international students pursuing graduate degrees in the United States.

Orji is originally from Nigeria and hopes to return to her country to identify better intervention strategies for dealing with public health issues. She is pursuing a master of public health degree in epidemiology and biostatistics and serves as the vice president of the Epidemiology Student Organization.

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One-Health team improves the lives of people in Nicaragua http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=one-health-team-improves-the-lives-of-people-in-nicaragua http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=one-health-team-improves-the-lives-of-people-in-nicaragua#comments Fri, 31 Oct 2014 17:04:48 +0000 http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=21886 Students from Texas A&M University and University of California (UC) Davis travel to Nicaragua and had the opportunity to see firsthand “One Health” connections while helping to improve the lives of communities]]>
Jeffreys worked with local doctors screening and educating patients on the causes of their illnesses.

Jeffreys worked with local doctors screening and educating patients on the causes of their illnesses.

Human health, animal health and the environment in which they both live are inextricably linked. This is especially evident in third-world countries where daily survival is dependent on these linkages. A collaborative transdisciplinary team of students from Texas A&M University and University of California (UC) Davis recently traveled to Nicaragua and had the opportunity to see firsthand “One Health” connections while helping to improve the lives of communities.

One of the students was Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health graduate Thomas Jeffreys, M.P.H., who trained with the team for four weeks at both Texas A&M and UC Davis prior to traveling to Nicaragua. Training focused on such topics as teambuilding, foodborne diseases, food safety and security, community garden planning, livestock health and handling, animal health and its affect on human health, public health program planning/implementation and environmental issues.

According to Jeffreys, “The training taught the team to be prepared, but also mindful of the culture and aware that we are there to do what the people need, not what we think is best for them.”

Health fairs consisted of as many animals as people because having healthy animals is essential for the livelihood of the people.

Health fairs consisted of as many animals as people because having healthy animals is essential for the livelihood of the people.

In addition to public health and environmental students, medical and veterinary medicine students comprised the eight members selected for the interdisplinary team. The goal of the month-long practicum was to explore the causes of common diseases and develop solutions and strategies that can be used to alleviate animal and human illness and improve the standard of living of the people in the country.

Working with local doctors to screen and educate patients on the causes of their illnesses while investigating connections to both animal and environmental health factors, Jeffreys experienced first hand the positive impact of an interdisciplinary approach. He also assisted in building community gardens to provide vegetables for a population whose diet consists largely of beans, rice and fried foods while providing nutrition education. Performing these tasks in a foreign, underdeveloped country proved stressful at times, but taught Jeffreys the necessity of being flexible in overcoming obstacles.

“Though team members were each trained in specific disciplines, those lines were blurred and interwoven in the face of what we encountered,” he said.

Health fairs consisted of as many animals as people because having healthy animals is essential for the livelihood of the people. Jeffreys dewormed animals and helped with veterinary consultations, something he had never done before. Of this experience, he emphatically believes that, “a representative of public health should always be willing to help in any way, no matter the circumstance.”

Additionally, the team completed a health assessment to provide insight on how to improve the program to better serve the people of Nicaragua in coming years. For example, in a country where households burn all garbage and waste right outside their homes and the land is saturated with pesticides, the team found kidney disease in humans to be rampant. Better educating the population on how to avoid toxins that impact their health and the health of livestock and companion animals was identified as an important subject for the next one-health team to address.

“Tom’s practicum is an excellent example of the kind of experience we desire for our students, providing them the opportunity to translate what they’ve heard in the classroom into practical application,” said Interim Dean Jim Burdine. “Multidisciplinary field experiences help students learn about collaboration, communities and most importantly about themselves.”

“Helping people in need while learning of the benefits of one-health, interdisciplinary approaches and solutions required us thinking outside the box of our individual disciplines to how we could best benefit each challenge we encountered,” Jeffreys said. “This experience allowed me to not only put public health skills into practice, but to do so with concern for the health of humans, the animals they depend on for their livelihood, and the environment in which they live and to understand how they are all interrelated and affected each other.”

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Texas A&M pharmacy offers specialized rotation in drug addiction http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=texas-am-pharmacy-offers-specialized-rotation-in-drug-addiction http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=texas-am-pharmacy-offers-specialized-rotation-in-drug-addiction#comments Fri, 31 Oct 2014 16:46:15 +0000 http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=21883 The Texas A&M Rangel College of Pharmacy offers an elective to students in substance abuse Advance Pharmacy Practice Experiential (APPE) rotations at the South Texas Substance Abuse Recovery Services (STSARS) in Corpus Christi as an option for professional student pharmacists who are interested in treating addictions]]>

Drug abuse is a problem that is faced by millions of Americans every day. According to a survey conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse in 2011, an estimated 22.5 million Americans 12 or older—or 8.7 percent of the population—had used an illicit drug or abused a psychotherapeutic medication in one month. That number was up from 8.3 percent in 2002.

Texas A&M Health Science Center Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy faculty and staff understands the importance of professional student pharmacists learning about addiction so they can put that knowledge into practice by serving as a resource for patients and their family members facing such situations.

Bree Watzak, Pharm.D., assistant professor of pharmacy practice, takes students to a week-long program on alcoholism and other drug dependencies at the University of Utah School of Medicine each summer. The experience challenges students both emotionally and professionally, as they are able to see how addiction truly works by sitting in on 12-step programs and group therapy sessions of addicts, learning that addiction is not purely a choice of an individual, it becomes a disease.

The program allowed students to see addiction from the perspective of others, while expanding their knowledge of the disease, using innovative strategies and methods. Each student participant was made aware of the signs of drug addiction and that ultimately, anyone from any background could suffer from the disease.

As an option for professional student pharmacists who are interested in treating addictions, the Texas A&M Rangel College of Pharmacy began offering an elective to students in substance abuse Advance Pharmacy Practice Experiential (APPE) rotations at the South Texas Substance Abuse Recovery Services (STSARS) in Corpus Christi.

Students who take this course as an APPE elective will gain an appreciation of the disease model of drug addiction. This six-week experience will serve as the culmination of an experience that will give students a glimpse of the other side of drug addiction, the illicit use of both prescription and street drugs. This is a unique pharmacy program offered to very few professional students and will allow for a niche in their education and pharmacy practice opportunities.

“My colleagues and I wanted to get the students from the Texas A&M Rangel College of Pharmacy involved in learning about substance abuse,” said Ron Garza, R.Ph., pharmacist at DeLeon’s Pharmacy and a preceptor for the college. “That way, when they get out in their own practice, they’ll understand the behavior of true addicts. They will be able to know what to do if they run into someone with these behaviors, because it is a very critical area and they can be involved in intervention techniques.”

Though many families experience addicts in their lives, they only understand the physical and emotional aspects of drug dependency, never the chemical side. The program allowed professional student pharmacists to see how a single chemical can change someone and their personality.

Students will learn that overcoming an addiction is something that has to be done progressively. With the newfound knowledge, students can fight side-by-side with those facing a daily battle with addiction.

“I was truly inspired and impressed by students who are interested in substance abuse and addiction,” Garza said. “I attended a program at the University of Utah School of Medicine and was moved by them and the fact that they seemed to have a spiritual experience. We have to keep students like these going, as they are getting into something magnificent. They will be great citizens and professional pharmacists.”

Watzak shared her excitement for the new APPE rotation and the success that students have had.

Students who are interested in preventing addiction, identifying those who are addicted, and reaching out to families of drug abuse and offer support can receive hands-on training through this program. More than anything, professional student pharmacists will be able to assist people who are suffering with addiction and help them to become loving friends and family members again.

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Are you making the most out of your pharmacy? http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=are-you-making-the-most-out-of-your-pharmacy http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=are-you-making-the-most-out-of-your-pharmacy#comments Fri, 31 Oct 2014 16:34:59 +0000 http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=21879 Your pharmacist is more than someone in a white lab-coat at your local drug store; they possess an intimate knowledge of pharmacology and can help you make the most of your treatment plan. Finding the right pharmacy for you can help you gain more control over your treatment and care]]>
Photo of a pharmacist handing a patient medication

Your pharmacy is a place where you should be comfortable discussing all of your treatment options. Finding the right pharmacy can save you time, money and help you better manage your health.

Is your pharmacy a grab-and-go location?  Or do you utilize your pharmacists’ expertise about prescriptions and over-the-counter medications? If not, you could be seriously undervaluing the wealth of information available at your local pharmacy.

Your pharmacist is more than someone in a white lab-coat at your local drug store; they possess an intimate knowledge of pharmacology and can help you make the most of your treatment plan.

To make the most out of your time, money and medication, here are some not-so-obvious ways the right pharmacy and staff can benefit you:

Time saving

Your pharmacy should be convenient to you. If you lead a fast-paced life and can’t afford to wait in long lines for a prescription, consider searching for a pharmacy with a drive-through window. On those busy days, with little-to-no downtime, being able to pick up your prescriptions without having to leave the car can spare you some unnecessary stress.

While drive-through windows are a good example of how the right pharmacy can save you time, it’s not the only thing you should consider. “People should choose the pharmacy that is most convenient to them and their schedule,” advised Heather Miller, Pharm.D., assistant professor of pharmacy practice at the Texas A&M Health Science Center Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy.

Choosing the location that’s closest to your home isn’t always the best criteria for selecting your pharmacy. If dropping by the pharmacy on your way home from work fits best with your schedule, then consider a pharmacy en route from work.

Money saving

Pharmacists have a wealth of information that can save you time and money. “Pharmacists usually have a more intimate knowledge about pharmacology than your physician might. Sometimes your pharmacist will know about a generic brand of your drug that can help you save money and meet your treatment plan,” Miller said.

If cost is a concern, your pharmacist is able to review your treatment plan and make recommendations for you to share with your primary care physician. Since your pharmacist works closely with drug-therapy plans, they may have a better knowledge of which alternative medications are less expensive or covered by your insurance, while still making sure that there are no interactions or side effects.

Life-saving

Pharmacists are often dubbed “the last line of defense” in checking for potential interactions. This is one of the reasons why hospitals are adding more pharmacists to their emergency departments’ staff.

One of the best ways to fully utilize your pharmacy staff’s expertise is to have all of your prescriptions sent to one central pharmacy location. This way, your pharmacists can double-check that none of the medications you take will have an adverse interaction. If you are nervous about possible drug interactions or side effects, Miller suggests you talk to your pharmacist.

“What people don’t necessarily realize is that their pharmacist is a drug-therapy expert and a great source of information for people to bring their questions and concerns about their medications,” Miller said.

Your health and safety are important matters, and something as simple as finding the best-fit pharmacy can help you gain more control over your treatment and care.

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INFOGRAPHIC: The 5 W’s of flu protection http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=infographic-the-5-ws-of-flu-protection http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=infographic-the-5-ws-of-flu-protection#comments Fri, 31 Oct 2014 15:30:10 +0000 http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=21874 Flu season has officially begun! Aside from washing your hands, getting enough sleep and exercising regularly, getting vaccinated is your best form of protection against the flu. ]]>

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Learn more about flu protection.

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Technology drives advances in home health care http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=technology-drives-advances-in-home-health-care http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=technology-drives-advances-in-home-health-care#comments Fri, 31 Oct 2014 14:01:37 +0000 http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=21869 Camille Peres, Ph.D. measures the usability of current home health technology and developing new innovative technology to make home health care an even more beneficial service for all involved]]>
Technology is giving the home health care industry a much-needed upgrade that is helping patients live healthier lives.

Technology is giving the home health care industry a much-needed upgrade that is helping patients live healthier lives.

During the last decade, there has been a remarkable increase in the number of individuals receiving health care services within their homes, with an estimated 12 million currently receiving some form of in-home service. Although this trend largely results in better outcomes and lower costs, it requires an infrastructure of support from home health providers, caregivers and patients to ensure it works well. Technology has proven to be key in this effort and is giving the home health care industry a much-needed upgrade that is helping patients live healthier lives.

Camille Peres, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, is measuring the usability of current home health technology and developing new innovative technology to make home health care an even more beneficial service for all involved. Her work in this area provides an insider’s view on some of the benefits and drawbacks that technology can provide in patient care.

“For the home health nurse, we expect that in the near future technology can facilitate the actual home visits by making record keeping easy and fast,” Peres said. “Home health nurses will be able to manage their activities through the use of mapping and scheduling programs that organize their days based on the patients they are scheduled to see, the location of those patients and the time they need to spend with each one.”

Further, if an emergency arises and the schedule must be changed, these types of programs could help reschedule the nurse’s day to best accommodate the information associated with that schedule change.

For the patient and their day-to-day caregivers (e.g., family members), technology can be leveraged for issues ranging from wound care to training on diet, according to Peres. For example, it would be much more efficient for a home health nurse to take a picture using a tablet device of a patient’s wound to document how well the wound is healing from one visit to the next than writing a description. Further, if the nurse sees anything about the wound that is concerning, he or she could send it to the patient’s primary care provider for review. Also, if the patient has a tablet similar to the nurse’s tablet, the nurse can download training videos that show the patient (and his or her caregivers) what foods to avoid during the recovery period.

S. Camille Peres, Ph.D.

S. Camille Peres, Ph.D.

Technology also can make it easier for patients to access their medical records and coordinate their own medical care. With the inclusion of sensors that can monitor heart rate, blood pressure and even blood sugar levels, patients will be able to communicate certain elements of their health status to their medical providers in real time.

Although these innovations are helpful, there are some risks involved in integrating technology into home health. In 2010, the Food and Drug Administration launched the Medical Device Home Use Initiative, an effort that regulates medical home health devices to ensure that they are safe and effective for use in the home. Another group who advocates for those using home health technology is the Emergency Care Research Institute (ECRI), who in 2011 issued a report strongly recommending doctors consider the usability of home health devices before prescribing them for their patients.

With usability being a main concern, researchers like Peres have been investigating and providing solutions to these issues. Further, Peres and her colleagues are identifying those types of devices that physicians, home health care providers, patients and caregivers alike need to know more about before they are prescribed for home health care use.

Regardless of the usability challenges, the benefits far outweigh the risks. Patients are able to decrease medical bills as a result of fewer hospitalizations, increase effectiveness of care by being in a familiar and convenient environment and improve their overall quality of life. Physicians are able to collaborate with other physicians and experts in new ways and use computers to analyze patient and medical data, allowing them to provide better and more efficient treatment for their patients.

“As technology continues to expand the horizons of medicine and medical interaction, it’s becoming clear that we’re entering a new era of health care,” Peres said. “By developing new, safe technology, these benefits will increase, and likely better the life of many individuals.”

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Dark chocolate: subtle trick or ideal treat? http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=dark-chocolate-subtle-trick-or-ideal-treat http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=dark-chocolate-subtle-trick-or-ideal-treat#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 21:45:19 +0000 http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=21865 This Halloween, a little dark chocolate might not be frightful when coupled with moderation and good oral hygiene. ]]>

Halloween is fraught with the perils of cavity-inducing candies and tempting treats. Lip-smacking sour gummies, ooey gooey caramel and the lingering indulgence of hard candies and fruit chews can get to the best of us, but these sugar-laden delights wreak havoc on our oral health. Even after candy is swallowed, the traces of sugar coupled with bacteria in the mouth create enamel-eroding acid. Yet there is a glimmer of semi-good news for the cavity conscious: dark chocolate.

04features-halloweenDark chocolate — which contains at least 60 percent cocoa solids and little-to-no added sugar — offers a bevy of health benefits when consumed in moderation. As rich in flavor as it is in flavonoids, which act as antioxidants, dark chocolate is associated with improvement in mood, cognitive performance, and blood flow to the heart and arteries. Conversely, it has been shown to have the potential to reduce blood pressure, cholesterol and the risk of blood clots.

It also contains theobromine, a naturally-occurring compound that studies have shown may strengthen tooth enamel. But does this mean that we should make a beeline for dark chocolate in the interest of stronger pearly whites?

“I think the potential oral health benefit is really minimal,” says Dr. Carolyn Wilson, ’77, ’81, a retired professor in pediatric dentistry at Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry, now in full-time private practice. “If you think you’re going to eat dark chocolate and be doing your teeth good I don’t think that’s true. If you’re going to eat candy, chocolate would be the best option. But I wouldn’t eat dark chocolate to try to make my teeth stronger.”

Plus, she adds, kids don’t readily spring for the somewhat-sweet, slightly-bitter treat. They gravitate instead toward the milk chocolate variety, which lacks health benefits but is not as damaging to the teeth as other Halloween candy out there.

“Chocolate is probably the best option because it melts quickly and doesn’t stick to the teeth like caramels, Jolly Ranchers and Skittles,” Wilson says. “Chocolate dissolves and clears out of the mouth pretty quickly. Anything sticky is going to be much worse.”

That includes dark or milk chocolate brimming with nougat, caramel or ganache. Fillings cancel out potential benefits.

“Solid chocolate is better than chocolate with anything inside of it,” says Wilson. “Then it’s all downhill from there.”

To minimize the eroding effects of sugar, Wilson recommends that parents let their kids have candy as a dessert right after mealtime as opposed to snacking on it intermittently throughout the evening. The quicker they can brush or at least rinse with water, the better.

This Oct. 31, Wilson plans to pass out crayons to her trick-or-treaters, but she readily shares the name of a favorite candy bar of her own, and it’s not the solid chocolate variety.

“I do buy Halloween candy, and I do eat it,” Wilson says. “Everybody deserves a treat now and then. You can have a treat; just practice good oral hygiene afterward.”

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