Department of Public Health and Community Service
Bringing a commitment to socially responsible education, patient care, research and the community, the Department of Public Health and Community Service fosters optimal health and quality of life through good oral health. Reflecting Tufts University’s mission of community service and citizenship development, the department not only provides comprehensive instruction and conducts research in a wide array of public health topics, but serves as a role model for future dentists through extensive outreach programs that bring quality services and preventive education to patients in need of dental care. The department consists of four divisions: Education, Advocacy and Outreach; Geratric Dentistry; Public Health Research and Analysis; Special Care in Dentistry.
Education, Advocacy and Outreach
The Division of Education, Advocacy and Outreach takes the quest for good oral health from the classroom to the front lines. Recognizing that improving oral health is a multi-faceted effort, the division melds a focus on education with a highly visible, active role in the community.
The division delivers a number of graduate and undergraduate courses designed to help dental students better understand the issues surrounding oral health, increase their knowledge of oral diseases and frequency in various populations, and learn how to conduct clinical oral health research. Course topics include oral health promotion and epidemiology.
The Division’s Community Dental Health Program also allows students from Tufts, as well as the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences’ Forsyth School of Dental Hygiene, experience in treating high-risk patients.
The division brings its expertise to local and state public health initiatives. Proactive in policy development impacting oral health, the division has been involved in efforts to reform state-funded health insurance, among other activities. It also has collaborated with various public health interest groups and government agencies in the delivery of improved oral care.
Providing quality dental care and education, the division undertakes a variety of community activities, including:
- Services at Health Fairs and Community Health Centers. The division works with local organizations to offer screenings and prevention education.
- Services for Underserved Populations. Joining forces with community programs, hospitals and organizations such as the Special Olympics, the division provides screenings, preventive care and education to patients who might not otherwise receive adequate care.
- School-based Initiatives. The division designs and implements dental programs in public schools, offering restorative care and screenings.
- Dental Mission. The division organizes and sponsors trips to countries such as Ecuador, where students and faculty offer preventive care, screenings and education.
- Community Service and Learning Externship Program.For nearly 35 years, the School of Dental Medicine has expanded students’ training – and broadened their perspectives – with a mandatory five-week “externship” in one of 25 facilities across the country. Working in community health centers, veterans’ facilities, prisons and military bases, students gain hands-on experience in providing care to individuals whose access to care is limited.
The Tufts Community Dental Health Program
Serving 10,000 patients annually, the Community Dental Health Program delivers on-site dental health services to high-risk populations in schools, Head Start programs, adult day activity centers, sheltered workshops and community residences. Eight dental hygienists travel throughout the state with portable dental equipment, providing oral health education, screening, dental cleaning, dental sealants and fluoride application to Head Start students, students with special needs and other individuals. Hygienists also make referrals to local dentists and offer ongoing case management services, providing a critical continuum of care that extends beyond twice-yearly cleanings.
With the lifespan of the average American increasing, it is critical that the dental profession effectively serves the needs of a diverse aging population. The Division of Geriatric Dentistry helps to improve dental care for the elderly through education on aging and related dental conditions while helping to maintain quality of life through services that help to restore and maintain oral health.
Recognizing the unique dental and medical needs of senior citizens, the Division of Geriatric Dentistry helps students develop the knowledge and skills needed to render comprehensive oral health care to this population. Students gain an understanding of the complexities of aging, learn about adaptive devices, and study the role of dentistry in total patient care. The division supplements classroom instruction with a rotation in the school’s geriatric clinic mandated for all third-year students. As part of this rotation, students provide care to senior citizens and attend a weekly seminar session in which each patient and patient management issues are discussed.
The division applies its expertise and commitment to socially-responsible education with weekly community outreach initiatives. Through programs at more than two dozen sites including subsidized housing facilities, assisted living facilities, senior centers, churches, and senior daycare centers, the division teaches the elderly about prevention and the care of dentures and also performs oral health and cancer screenings. These programs, conducted with the support of the Massachusetts Division of Elder Affairs, contribute to the well-being of nearly 300 senior citizens throughout the greater Boston area annually.
The division’s research initiatives are designed to help the dental profession improve the care provided to senior citizens. Recent research includes studies on issues related to nutrition, oral health, and the needs of elderly psychiatric patients.
Public Health Research and Oral Medicine
The Division of Public Health Research and Oral Medicine is dedicated to improving the quality of life in high-risk and medically compromised populations by engaging in basic and translational research to promote general health through good oral health practices. From managing large, multi-site research grants to providing non-surgical management of medically-related conditions, the division addresses a wide range of oral health issues.
The division’s research focuses on identifying and implementing novel oral health therapies. As part of its translational research approach, the division pinpoints key laboratory and research discoveries and creates interventions that are applied to patient care. The division has conducted dozens of clinical trials and manages research initiatives spanning topics such as:
- Sjögren’s Syndrome. The division is known for its research on Sjögren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that affects between one and four million people in the U.S. It is characterized by a sicca complex of decreased tears and saliva, burning mouth and the involvement of other organs and systems in the body. The division’s research activities include the identification of biomarkers for the disease, research on the effect of Omega-3 fatty acids on salivation, assessment of cognitive dysfunction associated with Sjogren’s syndrome, and numerous FDA trials on potential therapeutic interventions.
- Xerostomia (Dry Mouth). The division’s research covers dry mouth caused by cancer therapy, bone marrow transplantation, medication or Sjogren’s syndrome.
- Geriatrics: The division also researches oral healthcare for an aging population, including caries progression and periodontitis.
Oral Medicine Clinic
The division treats disorders and conditions affecting the oral and maxillofacial region through the Oral Medicine Clinic. Serving medically compromised patients, including those with Sjögren’s syndrome, HIV and other autoimmune diseases as well as those undergoing radiation and bone marrow transplantation, the Oral Medicine Clinic offers preventive protocols and assessments and then provides referrals for follow-up medical treatment.
Graduate and undergraduate students are exposed to critical oral medicine conditions and treatments through a required rotation in the Oral Medicine Clinic. The faculty members of the division supplement clinical observation through weekly lectures.
Special Care in Dentistry
The School of Dental Medicine makes a direct impact on thousands of lives through the various programs facilitated by the Division of Special Care in Dentistry. The division takes a proactive role in providing quality, locally-based clinical services and aggressive preventive education programs to under-served populations.
Without the division’s outreach, most of these patients would not otherwise receive dental health care, due to issues such as the difficulties that characterize treatment of disabled individuals and the decreasing number of dentists who accept state-provided health insurance. By bringing specially-trained dentists, hygienists and other dental health care providers directly to patients who need treatment the most, the division has set a national benchmark for serving the special needs population.
Commonwealth of Massachusetts Dental Program for Persons with Special Needs in Partnership with Tufts Dental School
Since 1976, Tufts Dental Facilities (TDF) have provided comprehensive oral health care to developmentally disabled individuals in Massachusetts. The result of a contractual partnership between the Tufts University School of Dental Medicine and the state’s Department of Developmental Services, the nationally recognized program – the largest of its kind – serves more than 7,000 patients at seven clinics throughout the state. The program also maintains arrangements with four hospitals to address the needs of patients who require IV sedation or general anesthesia for treatment.
Focused on the dental health needs of individuals with intellectual disabilities, autism, blindness and Down syndrome, Tufts Dental Facilities depend on the support of university, community, government, hospital and private healthcare resources to fill an important health care gap for this population.
Serving Patients with Developmental Disabilities in the Tufts Community Dental Health Program
As part of the larger Community Dental Health Program, Tufts serves approximately 2,500 patients with developmental disabilities in about 191 locations. Most (about 1,900) of those patients are children. Sites include schools, including schools specifically for children with disabilities, adult day activity centers, community organizations, and group residences. Eight dental hygienists travel throughout the state with portable dental equipment, providing oral health education, screening, dental cleaning, dental sealants and fluoride applications to patients. Hygienists also make referrals to local dentists and offer ongoing case management services, providing a critical continuum of care that extends beyond twice-yearly cleanings.
The Community Dental Health Program also gives third-year dental students from Tufts exposure to treatment for patients with disabilities. Students from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences’ Forsyth School of Dental Hygiene rotate through the community dental program specifically to gain experience with patients with special needs.
Special Care Rotation
Unlike most dental schools, Tufts offers students a unique opportunity to work with special needs patients in a clinical setting. Before graduating, students are required to spend one week at one of the Tufts Dental Facilities.
General Practice Residency Program
Through the General Practice Residency Program, students spend about 40 percent of their time working with special needs patients – significantly more than they would at a typical hospital or community health center. Like the Special Care Rotation, this experience provides important exposure to both the challenges and rewards of working with the special needs population.