Kathryn Dolan, RDH, MEd, is an assistant professor in the Department of Public Health and Community Service at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine (TUSDM) and the Director of the Tufts Statewide Community Dental Program in Boston, Kathryn Dolan, RDH, MEd, has more than 20 years of experience in academia and 30 years of experience in public health. She is expert in establishing community-based dental programs for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Dolan has worked at TUSDM for the past 22 years and is currently the course director for oral health promotion, epidemiology, and Boston public school-based pediatric clinic rotation. She also co-teaches the health literacy intensive course and is on the Advisory Board of Tufts Dental Central, which is designed to encourage civic engagement, support community service, and build cultural awareness at TUSDM. With a love of mentorship, Dolan works with students who are interested in special care dentistry, community-based dental programs, and health literacy. Her work in school-based oral health programs continues to receive grant funding.
What was a pivotal event in your life that shaped your career aspirations?
Pivotal moments come down to individual patient successes, great and small, one life at a time. One of my more memorable events involves a young girl with an intellectual disability who could not talk. She was noticeably challenged by misaligned teeth that would not allow her to close her lips completely and interfered with her ability to chew. Her appearance was compromised, and she sought refuge by avoiding interaction with classmates, teachers, and others. Challenged to communicate with her, but understanding the difficulties she faced, I made the effort and took the time to offer encouragement and establish trust. Routine oral disease prevention services were provided, but it was obvious the child’s malocclusion required significant orthodontic correction. A host of barriers stood in the way of initiating treatment because of a lack of insurance and family resources, high cost, and limited access to providers. Driven to be part of a solution and having an understanding of available community resources, I found an orthodontist willing to provide treatment. Over time, as the orthodontic treatment slowly started working, changes began to appear. The young girl’s teeth started to realign and her occlusion corrected to allow her to close and purse her lips. She was able to use her teeth and tongue to properly make sounds—she began to talk. Her confidence grew as she began to smile. And, her inner beauty bloomed in keeping with a physical appearance that was transformational. The little girl, who used to seek lonely solitude, became a young woman working at a fast food restaurant in the public eye, smiling with customers, and carrying on teenager conversations like everyone else her age. I will never forget this patient.
After this experience, I began working with local dental hygiene schools to have the students shadow public health dental hygienists, so they would have an opportunity to work with patients who have special needs.