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Manhattan teacher lets students sink teeth into dentistry

Joseph Caputo was a student at Tottenville High School in Staten Island when he cut his teeth in the field of dentistry.

Now Caputo, a teacher at Union Square Academy for Health Services, is hoping to inspire his students to do the same.

He brings dental equipment into the class, has students learn to make molds of teeth and is working to connect them with internships for some first-hand experience.

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS HOMETOWN HEROES IN EDUCATION RULES

But Caputo admits the field is not for everyone.

“I like teeth,” said the 27-year-old from Staten Island. “You either hate it, or you love it.”

Caputo’s passion for his work and students has earned him a nomination as a Daily News Hometown Hero in Education award. Parents, students and educators across the city are nominating exceptional teachers and other school staffers for the award.

Winners will be chosen by a panel of judges in August and honored at a star-studded breakfast on Oct. 1.

Caputo credits his mentor and high school teacher Daniel Solomon with helping spark his interest in both the dental and educational fields.

“I was always helping and instructing other kids,” Caputo said. “(Solomon) urged me to put together the two things I loved — dentistry and teaching.”

Caputo started working at a dentist’s office while in high school and earned a degree in restorative dentistry from the New York City College of Technology. Soon after, he got his license and began teaching there.

In the spring of 2012, Caputo took his personal and professional experiences to create a dental program at the fledgling Union Square Academy of Health Sciences. It opened that fall.

“I was a product of one of these programs,” he said. “It just shows how you can inspire kids to go into this field.”

He said students are often fascinated to find out how vital teeth are to overall health.

“If people don’t get a root canal, in some cases the decay can lead into the bloodstream and cause brain disease,” he said. “The kids were in shock. Nobody believed it.”

Caputo speaks with parent groups to keep them updated and involved in the program. And he’s working with colleges to create “bridge” programs that will allow students to earn credits while still in high school.

Whether they want to become dentists, hygienists or lab technicians, Caputo said learning these skills is a good investment for students.

“There are always going to be jobs in the health field,” he said.

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NOMINATE AN EDUCATOR FOR A HOMETOWN HERO AWARD

To nominate an educator, include a brief description of why he or she deserves an award. Please provide relevant names, dates, locations and contact information for the person making the nomination.

Email: hometownheroeseducation@nydailynews.com

Letter: P.O. Box 5047, Bowling Green, NY 10274

Fax: (212) 643-7831

lcolangelo@nydailynews.com

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