Students’ Dental Public Health Device Awarded Prize in Innovation Makerthon


Penn Dental Medicine Students’ Dental Public Health Device Awarded Prize in Innovation Makerthon

The CaviLight team members (left-right) Sherry Wan, Catherine Dang, Soren Christensen, and Milo Yu with Dr. Jonathan Rothberg, who started and sponsors the Rothberg Catalyzer Makerthons.

Philadelphia – A team of students from Penn Dental Medicine has been recognized for their innovative healthcare device, taking third place and a $1,000 prize in the Rothberg Catalyzer Makerthon, held at Penn October 13-14. The team included students Soren Christensen, Catherine Dang, Sherry Wan, and Milo Yu from Penn Dental Medicine’s Class of 2020.

The Rothberg Catalyzer is a cross-disciplinary event powered by the Penn Center for Health, Devices and Technology (Penn Health-Tech). Held at universities across the country, the Rothberg Catalyzer is the brainchild of scientist and entrepreneur Dr. Jonathan Rothberg, who invented high-speed DNA sequencing. With his funding, students work in teams to develop a product aimed at solving a healthcare challenge. This was the second time Penn Health-Tech presented a Rothberg Catalyzer – the inaugural Makerthon was held in March 2018.

During this immersive two-day event, student teams collaborate on a simple prototyping project that is then presented to a panel of judges at the end of the weekend. The competition drew 43 teams that included graduate and undergraduate students from Penn’s School of Engineering & Applied Science, Arts & Sciences, Design, Medicine, and Wharton, in addition to the team from Penn Dental Medicine.

The Penn Dental Medicine team, dubbed “CaviLight,” developed an inexpensive and easy-to-use device to be used in schools for early caries screening in children. The device uses fluorescent light to reveal if demineralization of a child’s teeth is occurring — this early sign of decay can be reversed if detected and treated early. The CaviLight team proposed its use by school staff to detect and refer children for dental care.

In 2017, the Surgeon General reported that dental caries (tooth decay) is the single most common chronic childhood diseases – five times more common than asthma and seven times more common than hay fever. The report concluded that the social impact of oral diseases in children is substantial with more than 51 million school hours lost each year to dental-related illness that can lead to problems in eating, speaking, and attending to learning. It also noted that poor children suffer nearly 12 times more restricted-activity days than children from higher-income families.

“By providing a tool for early detection of tooth demineralization that can be used outside of the dental office, by a non-dentist, children can easily be triaged and referred for treatment at their local dentist, a major step in breaking down barriers to care,” says team member Catherine Dang (D’20). Pew Charitable Trusts reports that more than 18 million low-income children go without dental care and that 78% of children on Medicaid across four states did not have required dental services.

“We congratulate Soren, Cat, Milo, and Sherry on their efforts to develop creative and practical solutions to address significant community issues”, says Dr. Joan Gluch, Associate Dean and Division Chief, Community Oral Health at Penn Dental Medicine. “Innovative strategies, such as CaviLight, will help ensure that more children can access the dental care they need.”