New Distinguished Professor Named

Athena Papas, head of the division of oral medicine at the School of Dental Medicine, receives the academic honor

Athena Papas, J67, who heads the division of oral medicine at the School of Dental Medicine, has been appointed a Distinguished Professor, an honorary title reserved for a handful of senior professors at Tufts who have made exceptional contributions to their disciplines, their students and the university as teachers or scholars. She will be honored at the dental school on Dec. 16.

Distinguished Professors are recommended by school deans and approved by the provost and the president. Since the program’s inception in 1985, only two other dental faculty members have received the title. There are 10 other Distinguished Professors at Tufts: three in the School of Arts and Sciences; two each in the School of Engineering, the School of Medicine and Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine; and one at the Fletcher School.

Athena Papas. Photo: John SoaresAthena Papas. Photo: John Soares
When Papas was appointed the Dr. Erling Johansen, D49, Professor in Dental Research in 2000, it marked the first time a dental school faculty member had been appointed to an endowed professorship. She has also taught at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.

She has led the charge in promoting oral medicine at Tufts, and helped establish the school’s oral medicine residency program, one of only seven accredited oral medicine programs in the country.

In her more than 40 years at Tufts, she has been the principal investigator on more than 65 clinical trials and has secured more than $20 million in research grants. Her areas of expertise include caring for the elderly; cancer patients; patients suffering from Sjögren's syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes extremely dry mouth; and those who have undergone bone marrow transplants.

Many of her discoveries, particularly in relationship to her pioneering work with Sjögren's syndrome, have resulted in treatments that have improved people’s lives, such as a rinse that heals mouth sores in patients who have received a bone marrow transplant or undergone radiation therapy and a drug that stimulates saliva production in Sjögren’s patients.

She is a reviewer for Special Care in Dentistry, The New England Journal of Medicine, Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology and other journals. She is involved with the Massachusetts Public Health Association, the Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation and the New England AIDS Education and Training Center.

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