Orthodontics Resident Receives AAOF Research Aid Award

Dr. Heather ErcolanoSecond-year orthodontics resident Heather Ercolano, DDS ’21, has received the American Association of Orthodontists Foundation (AAOF) Research Aid Award for her proposal that will examine facial soft tissue changes following orthopedic maxillary expansion.

Ercolano’s study, which is already underway, will investigate the side effects of treating transverse maxillary deficiencies that are treated with palate expanders, including the widening of the maxilla and nasal cavity, and potential soft tissue expansion of the nose, lips and cheeks. The research is being done in concert with David Gu, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Computer Science, and his graduate students at Stony Brook University’s Center for Wireless and Information Technology (CEWIT). By using a 3-D facial soft tissue camera developed at the CEWIT, the students are capturing soft tissue facial images before and after the use of a palate expander in treating patients with transverse maxillary deficiencies.

“As dentists, we’re trying to make our patients’ teeth look beautiful, but we have to take into the account the ipact of our treatments on patients' soft tissue as well,” Ercolano said. “We believe we are going to see change in the soft tissue from the palate expander, and with more definitive information, we will have a better grasp on their effects when treating patients in the future.

“It’s been exciting and rewarding to be recognized for our work,” she continued. “It’s a sign that you’re doing a good job and that your research is important, and it has inspired me to do more research in the future.”

Ercolano is carrying on the work originally started in 2021 by then-resident Devin Klein, DDS ’19, PD Ortho ’22, now an orthodontist at Schindel Orthodontics in East Northport, New York. She credits Dr. Richard Faber, clinical professor in the Advanced Education Program in Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics, for continuing to support this line research, which she will perform through the time she graduates. The AAOF, the charitable arm of the American Association of Orthodontists, has provided more than $15M in funding for orthodontic education and research since 1994.

A Miller Place, New York, native, Ercolano received her Bachelor of Science in biology from Stony Brook University in 2017, and proceeded to earn her Doctor of Dental Surgery from the School of Dental Medicine in 2021. She is on track to graduate from the SDM’s orthodontic residency program in June 2024, with a certificate in orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics and a Master of Science in oral biology and pathology. From there, she eyes an associate position at an orthodontic practice, as well as an appointment as a part-time faculty at the SDM.

“I really love it in and around Stony Brook,” she said. “I have enjoyed being an active member of the community – and helping the community – in more ways than one.”