Final Words: Jacob Zellner, Graduate Periodontics
Your name, program, dissertation title, mentor name.
Jacob Zellner, Graduate Periodontics, Wound healing after ridge preservation: A randomized controlled trial on short-term (4 months) versus long-term (12 months) histologic outcomes,
Dr. Brian Mealey, Clinical Professor, Department of Periodontics
Please tell me about yourself, why did you pick UT Health San Antonio, and your program.
I am originally from Jacksonville, Florida and attended dental school at A.T Still University in Mesa, Arizona. When I realized I wanted to pursue a career in periodontics, UT Health San Antonio was one program that had a reputation that was superior to all others. I visited the program on an externship during my 3rd year of dental school and was amazed by the clinic, the knowledge of the faculty, the support of the administrative team, and the team-like environment amongst the residents and assistants. I also wanted to attend a program where I would be challenged to the best I could be clinically. I knew that San Antonio would provide that for me.
The faculty are by far the best thing about the program. I have never been in an environment where the faculty care so much about individual success not just academically, but also personally. Faculty are available to the residents whenever needed, and are patient and encouraging. There are no better faculty at any other program than San Antonio.
What has been the highlight of graduate school so far? Have you won any awards or have there been any achievements you’ve been proud of?
The highlight of graduate school has been building relationships with my co-residents and learning from our faculty. Whenever I meet different periodontists in private practice or academic institutions or residents from other programs, they usually want to know more information about San Antonio and the leadership of Dr. Mealey and Dr. Palaiologou-Gallis. It is refreshing to be in a program where all the faculty are well known among the periodontal community, which also makes it easier when looking for a job. I also enjoy residency a lot because not only can you learn from faculty but also each of the residents in our department and others. Each resident has unique experiences to them in their background and while treating patients. The residents also photograph our cases, and you can really learn a lot from reviewing surgical photos, including things to improve on. I review different surgeries from other residents at the end of each day and review with faculty members. It is great to be in an environment where you can not only learn from your faculty but also your co-residents.
Please provide a few sentences summarizing your dissertation. What was the experience like for you?
My research was with Dr. Brian Mealey, who has studied bone grafts following tooth extractions extensively the last several years. My project was focused on the long-term wound healing of mineralized freeze-dried bone allografts and the timing of dental implant placement following a bone graft. We found that it takes beyond 1 full year of healing for a bone graft to be completely turned over into “host bone” and also that bone grafts can maintain the alveolar ridge up to 1 year. So, if patients need to wait beyond the normal healing time of 3 months to have a dental implant placed because of finances, moving, or COVID-19 pandemic, they can feel confident that there is no detrimental effect.
I really enjoyed completing my thesis and working on my research with Dr. Mealey who has a lot of experience performing clinical research projects. Dr. Mealey is incredibly organized, which makes meeting deadlines and tasks easy to follow. He is also very approachable when questions come up, which they often do with clinical research, that made it very enjoyable for me.
Why are you passionate about your research topic? How did you first become interested in it?
I believe that clinical research is extremely important in dentistry. Periodontics is a specialty that strives to be evidence based, and our program reviews 30-40 articles a week. I am passionate about this topic because of the significance it has on clinicians who place implants. Previously, there was no knowledge if bone grafts would be effective in reducing ridge dimension loss up to one year. It was also unknown how long it takes for allografts to be resorbed completely. These questions were answered in our study.
I will be joining a private practice periodontics office in Tallahassee, Florida called Periodontal Associates of North Florida. Both my wife, Jenny, and I are from Florida, and we are excited to get back closer to our families.
Any advice for your fellow graduate students?
I am so thankful for my time at University of Texas Health Science Center. Coming here was one of the best decisions I have made in my life. I think my biggest advice for graduate students is to enjoy your time in residency and graduate school. We spend a lot of time in school preparing for the future and it is hard to not “live for the future” instead of “living in the present” understanding that each breath of air is a gift we have to make a difference in others and in our community. Graduate school is long, and challenging, but having the mindset of making the most of every day I believe helps you academically, but also personally.