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At Tufts, Johnson found his niche in dentistry and connecting with other communities to spread the value of oral health

DeVonte Johnson

DeVonte Johnson, D21, is following in his family’s footsteps with a commitment to help others.

The soon-to-be dentist said that he felt inspired to go into a health care field after growing up with a mother who was a nurse in a craniofacial surgical practice and a father who was a barber. Dentistry, he said, came into focus for him after he considered all the various professions within health care. He felt drawn to the benefit the profession can have on people’s self-esteem.

“I saw that dentistry impacted how people looked at themselves and how they thought about themselves,” the Atlanta native said. “It’s about that mindset and being able to help someone positively to be able to move along in their life. It was an easy win-win for me.”

Johnson said the welcoming Tufts community he encountered made him thankful to have attended the School of Dental Medicine and that the support helped him and his classmates make the most of their time at Tufts.

“The biggest thing I appreciated about Tufts is that I came into a community. I felt like Tufts was extremely resourceful at helping people come in at all different levels of achievement when it came to education,” said Johnson, noting that some classmates had taken time off in between studies or had switched into dentistry from other tracks. It was important that Tufts met people where they were in their lives and in their schooling, he said.

One way Johnson enhanced his learning while at Tufts was by using his creative prowess to build a platform and outreach campaign called Protect Your Teeth, geared towards educating children in a fun way about living a healthy life that includes caring for their teeth. He enlisted the help of a friend, Jaron Write, to create a jingle, and he plans to create 10 60-second health lessons for social media—for example, what to do when a tooth gets accidentally knocked out playing sports.

Protect Your Teeth began as a guerilla marketing campaign in Boston. Johnson produced a pop-up event in downtown Boston giving out dental hygiene supplies and sponsoring giveaways. Johnson even put up a billboard in October 2020 in Chinatown to help spread the message.

Another way Johnson maximized his time at Tufts was by organizing a service project trip to Uganda. Prior to attending TUSDM, Johnson had done a healthcare mission project in Uganda, and he used relationships from that trip, along with resources from the School of Dental Medicine, to create a pilot dental program there under the leadership of Professor John Morgan, director of global outreach and special projects at the dental school. The goal of his early 2020 trip was to see if the project could be scalable to up to 10 student dentists, to help residents of Uganda with dental procedures. Global learning service trips are currently halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic hit right after he returned from Uganda, affecting his clinical rotations at Tufts. However, because of the work in Uganda, where he and another student saw hundreds of patients over a two-week period, he said the opportunity to take the trip was a something he’ll always remember.

“Thanks to all these different things we’ve been able to create over this time and all the relationships I’ve been able to forge, I’m now in the real world with some brand equity in multiple capacities—as a clinician and as a creator,” he said.

Johnson said he learned discipline and to work at the highest standards. At Tufts, “there are no more shortcuts—we’re taking the stairs,” Johnson said. “It allowed me to develop some really good habits for how I approach my work and my professionalism.”

Johnson, who plans to move back to Atlanta after graduation and work in private practice, said he would encourage students just starting their dental school journeys to “buckle up.”

“You always come in thinking it’s going to be a certain way and life throws different things at you, but eventually you get out on the other side. Keep your head up and stick to the plan,” advised Johnson, who said he plans to continue his studies once in professional practice, to learn dental veneers and implants.

Profile written by Meredith Berg.

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