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Step UP Dental brings Tufts talent to Boston schools

After reading, math, and science, Boston elementary-school pupils are learning to brush, floss, and eat a healthy diet, with help from Tufts dentists and nutritionists.

"Across the nation, dental problems are a leading cause of absenteeism at school," says Dr. Catherine Hayes, who as the Delta Dental of Massachusetts Professor of Public Health and Community Service coordinates Tufts' involvement in Boston's Step UP partnership serving city school kids. "Our goal for Step UP Dental is to address any urgent care issues and instill lifelong healthy dental habits in school children and their families," she says.

Gifts to the Beyond Boundaries campaign have supported the effort. A $5 million gift from the state's largest provider of dental benefits endowed the Delta Dental professorship held by Hayes, chair of the School of Dental Medicine's Department of Public Health and Community Service.

A grant from the State Street Foundation supports Tufts' involvement in Step UP. The year-old program administered by the City of Boston draws on the resources and expertise of five area universities to provide comprehensive services to urban schools. Tufts' participation includes Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy initiatives in healthy eating and physical activity, along with dental health education, prevention, and restorative services provided by the team from the dental school.

Tufts' Step UP team is composed of four hygienists, two public health dentists, and a rotating roster of third-year dental students. They arrive at Boston schools with 450 pounds of portable equipment-including a dental chair, compressor, and lights-and stay anywhere from a week to a month, providing cleanings, fluoride, and routine restorative care. "The number of school kids I've met who have never seen a dentist is astounding," says Karen Daniels, executive director of Step UP.