Spring 2017

The Institution as Advocate

Public health crusader is a role the dental school takes seriously.

By Emma Johnson

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Illustration: Mitch Blunt

Promoting better oral health for pregnant women and young children. Protecting the eyes of dental practitioners. Fighting the epidemic of opioid addiction. The challenges vary, but Tufts School of Dental Medicine has been a consistent champion of measures to improve the health of the public and the standards of the profession.

The dental school “has a long tradition of research and policy development in the best interest of the public and the health professions,” said Dean Huw F. Thomas. “The following three examples best illustrate the continuation of that commitment.”

BABIES AND MOTHERS: David Leader, D85, MPH13, has helped safeguard the health of the 70,000 babies born in Massachusetts each year as well as their mothers. Leader, an associate professor of comprehensive care, was on a committee that created a set of practice guidelines for health-care providers on oral health care for pregnant women and young children. Hubert Park, D11, DG13, MPH14, and Daniel Chen, MPH14, D19, also served on the advisory committee.

The guidelines “have been well received by physicians, hospitals and public health centers around Massachusetts,” Leader said. The national Coalition for Excellence in Maternal and Child Health Epidemiology has applauded the measure.

EYE SAFETY: Peter Arsenault, D94, began looking into eye safety in dental practice after he was injured by a chunk of filling that flew off his instrument and into the tiny gap between his safety glasses and cheek. Arsenault, an associate clinical professor of comprehensive care, collaborated with Amad Tayebi, a professor of plastics engineering emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Lowell to determine that eye-safety equipment should include protection for the “bottom gap”—the space between the lower rims of the lenses of protective eyewear and the upper edge of the mask.

Their findings were published in the Journal of the Massachusetts Dental Society (Winter 2016); they also presented their research to the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) and the American Dental Association (ADA). Now Arsenault is chairing a working group on the ADA’s Standards Committee to develop new protocols for dental eyewear. Closer to home, the dental school’s clinical infection-control manual now recommends that bottom-gap protection be used during patient treatment and lab work at the school. “We are the first dental school in the country to adopt this policy,” Arsenault said.

DRUG ABUSE: Nearly every health profession has been brought into the fight against opioid and prescription drug abuse. In early 2016, a coalition of the three Massachusetts dental schools, the Massachusetts Dental Society and state government created “core competencies”—the nation’s first—to provide additional training to dental students so they can be prepared to help prevent prescription drug abuse in their practices.

Ronald Kulich, a professor of diagnostic sciences, cochaired the committee with Dean Thomas. Kulich and Ellen Patterson, director of interprofessional education, have been educating Tufts dental students about addiction screening. The school’s facial-pain team also works with medical staff at the Boston Pain Care Center. Kulich and William Jackson, a faculty member in diagnostic sciences, train state law enforcement agencies, including the Massachusetts State Police, in methods to screen for opioid addiction.

Contact Emma Johnson at emma.johnson@tufts.edu.

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