Relationships and Volunteerism Are Key

Ashley Grill Selected UMKC Dental Hygiene Alumni Achievement Award Recipient

A speaker, writer and leader in the field of oral health, Ashley Grill (BSDH ’99) is an adjunct clinical assistant professor at New York University and full-time coordinator for the PEARL Network, a practice-based research network.

Grill grew up in a dental family and said helping others always appealed to her. The lessons learned from her parents conveyed that building relationships and giving back were key to success in a career. Grill continues to practice that lesson and has included the value they bring in her personal life, as well.

“At a young age, my family explained a secret to having a rewarding career. They shared the way to navigate a career is to build relationships and volunteer,” said Grill. “I’ve enjoyed watching dad’s volunteer career work in Ethiopia, and for me giving back to the profession and community through volunteerism is important not only for personal and professional development, it gives a sense of purpose.”

That commitment helped earn Grill the 2016 Dental Hygiene Alumni Achievement Award from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Each year, the UMKC Alumni Association recognizes 16 alumni and one family with top honors. UMKC will honor Grill and other outstanding alumni at the 2016 Alumni Awards Luncheon April 21 at Swinney Recreation Center. The luncheon is one of the university’s largest events and proceeds support student scholarships. Last year’s luncheon attracted nearly 600 attendees and garnered more than $141,000 in student scholarships.

Grill said that the majority of her volunteering has been organizational, where she shared values similar to those of the people she met, as well as a mission to create a community that reflected those values.

“As an industry, there are many career paths available for individuals willing to step out and make a difference,” said Grill. She has served in numerous leadership roles, including the New Hampshire Dental Hygienists’ Association, New Hampshire Public Health Association, and the American Dental Hygienists’ Association and is president elect of the New York Dental Hygienists’ Association.

According to Grill, graduating from UMKC with a bachelor’s degree advanced her opportunities beyond the associate degree level. She later learned coming from UMKC was the technical equivalent in the dental hygiene field to being from an Ivy League with a degree in the liberal arts.

“The Bachelor of Science in dental hygiene degree programs are a league unto themselves in dentistry, and UMKC’s reputation is highly regarded due to the excellent work of their educators,” said Grill.

Grill said she realized she wanted to be a dental hygiene researcher when she took her first position as a temporary clinical research dental hygienist in Needham, Mass., at the Gillette Dental Research Clinic. There, she worked side-by-side with the Oral B engineers, chemists and a team of researchers, including Ph.D. clinical researchers, toxicologists and other experts who designed and tested novel oral care products.

“Their knowledge of the scientific method and utilization of research to guide product development impressed me. I realized that to pursue this career path I’d need to continue my education,” said Grill. “I looked around at the hygienists who wrote study protocols and managed the research clinic, and I wanted to be like them. They all had advanced degrees.”

When she moved to New Hampshire, Grill was offered a position teaching for the following semester at the Dental Hygiene Program at New Hampshire Technical Institute, an institute where she offered to volunteer.

Grill discovered she had access to the library rights to look up information about clinical questions and feed her thirst for knowledge and better educate students. She was hooked on her academic affiliation, but didn’t lose sight of her aspiration to be a researcher.

Grill had specific goals for the students she teaches.

“I hope that I set an example for why volunteering in organizations should be a part of everyone’s personal and professional development plan,” said Grill. “I also strive to teach colleagues and students alike to learn how to ask questions and search for their answers using scientific methods,” she said.

“Professionally, the most important work I’m doing is writing with Frederick A. Curro, D.M.D., Ph.D., who is the Director of the PEARL Network. There are several publications in preparation for submission to peer review that impact the profession,” said Grill. “We’ve already written extensively about the way we think about patients, seeing them as a whole (as people are only patients for about 60 minutes every six months). This concept is person-centered care. As part of person-centered care, getting the right diagnosis is critical,” she said.

Grill said in the PEARL Network study, there was data to support the assertion that variation in terminology affects diagnosis and treatment plans for the gum disease periodontitis. Also, the study indicated the misclassification and misdiagnosis of periodontitis was similar to the numbers seen in breast cancer misdiagnosis.

On a personal note, she’s interested in following the American Dental Association’s code maintenance committee’s work to fix gaps in the insurance industry’s complex set of billing codes for treatment of periodontitis. In 2014, Grill submitted codes to the committee as an individual. In March 2016, the committee will vote on the outcome of their work to revise the Current Dental Terminology nomenclature to address the issue.

What is the most challenging part of her job? Grill said it’s staying on top of deadlines for various work, volunteer and family commitments. In teaching, the challenge is getting students to navigate the gaps in insurance codes, while delivering the highest level of quality care possible and being true to the diagnosis, which she hopes the ADA will soon resolve.

Grill’s best advice to students following in her footsteps: “Education will open the door, your connections will invite you in and your effort will get you through.”

Click here for tickets or sponsorship information for the April 21, 2016 Alumni Awards Luncheon.

Click here for more information on the 2016 Alumni Awards recipients.


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