Volunteer Community Engagement

The Department of Public Health and Community Service at TUSDM firmly believes that experiential and service learning along with community engagement are inseparable from proper dental education. Developing the next generation of global dental leaders requires the development of community listening skills, compassion, advocacy and engagement. Students are strongly encouraged and supported to practice these skills.

Below is a sampling of initiatives where PHCS faculty work closely with students and the many TUSDM student clubs to meet the oral health educational needs in a variety of communities. Our faculty and staff run both ongoing community programs, as well as one time event activities. This work changes depending on the current environment. This work receives ongoing support by Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life.

Dental students smiling while standing next to a table with bags and stuffed animals

Community Service by Students Groups

TUSDM has an active roster of over 40 student organizations, many of which prioritize volunteering to provide community-based oral health education. From unhoused veterans and people with special needs to children and families living with the effects of health and race disparities, the Department of Public Health and Community Service endeavors to respond to all requests from community partners for oral health instruction and activities.

From our host community in Boston’s Chinatown to global service learning in countries including the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Zambia, students provide on-site or telehealth screenings and education and support community members find a dental home. We teach students how to work with vulnerable populations to deepen their understanding of the social determinants of health and to strengthen their skills providing care and education.

Students do this work through clubs such as Smiles for Veterans, Smiles for Life, American Pediatric Dental Association (AAPD), Hispanic Student Dental Association (HSDA), Students National Dental Association (SNDA), Autism Smiles and The Smile Squad, etc.

Other student groups like Teletutoring by Tufts (TBT), StoryTime, and Cherish Chinatown provide other important community partners by tutoring kids and participating in neighborhood cleanups.

Lead Coordinator: Nancy Marks, M.S. Tisch/TUSDM Community Service Coordinator

A child, wearing sunglasses and holding a tiger stuffed animal, sitting on dentist chair opening his mouth wide
A group of people, smiling, standing in front of a building that reads Veterans Housing of Brighton Marine

Examples of Community Service and Engagement

Autism Smiles

Autism Smiles offers support to parents and caregivers of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) by providing resources and tools to familiarize and prepare them for dental settings.  It gives dental students the experience of connecting with families of children with ASD and hones their skills. With the telehealth model, families are sent a sensory toolkit in advance of their virtual appointment. During the appointment. TUSDM students share what to expect at a dental appointment, review oral hygiene instructions, and review the free sensory tool kit items they received in the mail.

Leads: Dr. Martha Forero and Zhanea Nicholson

Give Kids A Smile

Organized in partnership with TUSDM’s Pediatric Department and PHCS faculty, TUSDM hosts Give Kids A Smile – a national initiative created in 2003 by the American Dental Association (ADA) Foundation to promote pediatric oral health in underserved communities. During this special once a year event, TUSDM students provide children around the Boston area with free preventive and/or restorative dental services. Students also offer oral health education to children, parents and caregivers.

Lead: Dr. Martha Forero

Global Service Learning and Outreach

Global Service Learning (GSL) fosters intercultural understanding while providing oral health services to underserved populations identified by partnering agencies, institutions, and universities. The goal of the GSL program is to enhance understanding of the social determinants of health, improve oral health equity and prepare an oral health workforce who are leaders in global oral health.   Students work closely with faculty to plan trips abroad.  Past international outreach sites have included the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Peru, Uganda, and Zambia.

Lead: Dr. John Morgan

People Living with Substance Use Disorder

Students and faculty provide services and oral health education to members of Victory Programs’ Boston Living Center (BLC) which is a nonprofit community and resource center that fosters the wellness of individuals living with chronic health conditions including and beyond HIV, people who are experiencing housing and/or food insecurity, substance use, and those who are isolated. The BLC responds to the changing needs of its community through education, treatment information, and support services, like oral health promotion.

Leads: Various Faculty


TUSDM Cares for Veterans (formally known as Service With A Smile) was founded in 2019 by two Iraq War combat Veterans and dental students at TUSDM, one who is now serving in the Army as a dentist. They had a vision to give back to their Veteran comrades and to honor their friends whom they served with who made the ultimate sacrifice for the love of their country.  Students and faculty provide services and oral health education to veterans at the New England Center and Homes for Veterans (NECHV) and at Brighton Marine. Students also strive to build friendships and relationships between our TUSDM community and Veterans in the greater Boston area and to diminish the stigma regarding homeless Veterans.

Lead: Professor Kathryn Dolan

Vulnerable Adults over 50/Geriatrics

Smiles For Life is a student club that works to empower adults over 50 to improve their oral health through daily self-care and increased knowledge about the important connection between oral health, general health, and wellbeing. Partner sites include:

  • City of Boston Age Strong Commission: Since 1998, the Department of Public Health and Community Service has worked in collaboration with the City of Boston Age Strong Commission to provide outreach services to older adults in subsidized housing complexes, senior centers, assisted living facilities, and congregational settings. Seniors receive education about oral disease prevention, nutrition counseling, and oral cancer screening.
  • 2Life Communities:  In 2019, a partnership was established with 2Life Communities, a supportive living facility with 1600 residents from 38 countries across 5 campuses in the greater Boston area to bring oral health education to residents who might not otherwise have access to dental care.

Lead: Dr. Karin Arsenault

To learn more about student groups and community engagement, please visit TUSDM Dental Central.  Dental Central is an online portal which hosts information on volunteer opportunities, shares participant reflections, provides overview of TUSDM’s community service learning, etc.

External Community Relations

Dentists sitting with groups of people in a large room and circular tables

In addition to working with students, our faculty volunteer their time to provide content expertise and testimony on how to improve population oral health and engage with multiple key stakeholders locally, state-wide and nationally. Under the guidance and direction of Department Chair and Delta Dental of Massachusetts Professor Athanasios Zavras, DPHCS represents the School and participates actively in multiple internal organizations such as the Tufts CTSI and external community and professional organizations such as the Massachusetts Department of Oral Health, the State Commission on Oral Health, the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, the Massachusetts Public Health Association and other key stakeholders. 

Department faculty provide consultations, give testimony and author key articles and reports such as NIDCR Oral Health of the Nation to assist in the development of national and state health policies that improve dental access for all. Internationally, the department has started a range of activities to shape and disseminate WHO’s Global Oral Health Report, a pivotal publication that documented for the first time the impact of oral diseases on a global scale.