Care Where the Kids Are

At this Boston elementary school, cleanings, fluoride and fillings are available just down the hall, thanks to Tufts dental students
child getting dental instructions from dental student
Annie Le, D18, reviews proper brushing technique with Sarah, a Josiah Quincy pupil, during a visit at the elementary school clinic. Photo: Alonso Nichols
April 27, 2017


“I’m a rock star!” declares Lucy, the pint-sized patient, as she dons a pair of black-and-white oversized sunglasses and prepares to have her teeth counted.

The exam comes during a break from her classroom at the Josiah Quincy Elementary School in Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood, where a fully equipped, three-chair pediatric dental clinic is on the third floor. Each year, more than 300 kids like Lucy in kindergarten through grade five receive care at the school from Tufts dental students and staff.

Many Josiah Quincy students are from families with limited incomes or first-generation families, and often lack access to dental care, said Tarunjeet Pabla, DI08, the assistant professor who supervises the clinic.

Lucy giggles as Jing Wang, D18, gets a look at her teeth. Photo: Alonso NicholsAs part of their pediatrics rotation, third-year students at Tufts School of Dental Medicine provide preventive services and simple restorations. More complicated cases are referred to the dental school clinic or neighborhood health centers.

On any given day, the student dentists may see a fifth-grader with 16 cavities who’s never been to the dentist before; a kid who’s damaged a tooth in a playground tumble; an anxious child who clasps her hand tightly over her mouth; or a trouper like Lucy, who is used to going to room 302 for twice-yearly checkups, cleanings and fluoride treatments. The patients include children with a range of developmental or physical disabilities.

Aaron, another Josiah Quincy student, gives Timothy Kim, D18, a high-five during his exam. Photo: Alonso Nichols“This is a real benefit to the children at the school, as well as to our students, who get experiences here they wouldn’t anyplace else,” said Kathryn Dolan, director of the Tufts Statewide Community Dental Program.

“When the dental students come here, we can also have conversations about fluoridation in public water, access to care, language barriers, health literacy, different cultural viewpoints about oral health care,” Pabla said. “This adds a completely new dimension to their thinking, beyond the dental office.”

Helene Ragovin can be reached at