Dentistry 101

High school students get a jump on their careers, with some help from Tufts School of Dental Medicine

students and instructor in dental assisting class

The hallways are filled with the sounds of chatter and slamming lockers as classes change at Somerville High School. If you maneuver through the fray by following Ankush Kumar, the only student wearing dental scrubs, he’ll lead you down a stairway and into an atypical classroom.

In the room, dental chairs are set up the way they would be in an operatory, students in scrubs gather around a seminar table, and teeth carved from soap lie on a side table. Kathleen Brosnahan, a certified dental assistant who has worked in pediatric dental practices for more than 20 years, teaches the city high school’s new course in dental assisting. Known as “Mrs. B” to the seven students who started the spring term, Brosnahan teaches them not only the science, clinical care and business aspects of dentistry, but some life lessons as well.

“Sometimes kids can get lost after high school if they graduate without job skills,” she says. “No one is really mentoring them in that respect, showing them the way. We are promoting career and technology education along with strong academics—showing them what they can do with what they learn after they graduate,” Brosnahan says. “I’ve wanted to get involved with a program like this for a long time.” The Somerville High School course prepares students to enter programs to certify them as dental assistants after graduation.

Tufts School of Dental Medicine donated two of the dental chairs for the program after clinic renovations at One Kneeland Street were completed in 2012. “The school frequently makes donations such as these to support its public health and community service mission goals,” says Stephen Brown, operations liaison at the dental school. “We are glad to have contributed to a new program at Somerville High School that supports the dental profession.” Somerville is a host community for one of Tufts’ three Massachusetts campuses.

Although there are just seven students in this first class, more than 160 students have cycled through Brosnahan’s classroom as part of the school’s Freshman Exploration program, indicating that interest in the course will only continue to grow.

The high school students are taking Brosnahan’s course for a variety of reasons, but they all seem to share her passion for the profession. “I love dentistry,” says Julia DiFraia. “I am going to be a dentist,” says Srijian Sapkota. “I just really like teeth,” adds Faith R. Blass.

This article first appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of Tufts Dental Medicine magazine.

Gail Bambrick can be reached at

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