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Dentistry Ohio

'Living' Article September 2010


September 2010


How about some history this month regarding America’s legacy around dental education?  During our recent Baltimore trip I learned that our nation’s first dental school, the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, was chartered in 1840 by the Maryland General Assembly. 

It wasn’t until our eleventh dental school, the Harvard Dental School opened in 1867 that dental education became affiliated with an established university.  While the D.D.S. (Doctor of Dental Surgery) degree had been in use since 1840, some of the Harvard faculty members favored awarding graduates of its new dental school the same M.D. (Medical Doctor) degree that they awarded their physician graduates.  In a compromise, the dental school faculty agreed to the designation D.M.D. (Doctor of Dental Medicine).  In time other dental educational programs adopted the Harvard designation for their program.  Those of you who have been dying to know why some dentists are D.D.S.s and others are D.M.D.s now have an answer. 

Founded by the Congregational Church, Harvard University was on the cutting edge in many progressive arenas.  The first graduating class of the Harvard Dental School in 1869 included Robert Tanner Freeman, our nation’s first African American dental school graduate.  This was four short years after the end of the Civil War! 

Earlier in November of 1866 members of the First Congregational Society of Washington (DC) considered establishing a theological seminary for the education of African-American clergymen. Within a few weeks, the concept expanded to include a provision for establishing a university.  The new institution was named for General Oliver O. Howard, a Civil War hero and commissioner of the Freedman’s Bureau.  By 1881 dental education was established at Howard University and later in 1886 at Meharry Medical Department of Central Tennessee College.  Nine students enrolled in Meharry’s first class, some of whom were physicians holding medical degrees.  Between 1885 and 1900, the number of licensed African American dentists in the nation increased from 25 to 125.  By 1920 the census showed that number had increased to 1,109.

My alma mater, the University of Michigan School of Dentistry has made its own significant contributions to American dental education.  The program was founded in 1875 and Dr. Taft, the school’s first dean, in 1901 established the four-year educational model that still to this day is the national standard.   The school was one of the first to emphasize the importance of the continuing education of dental graduates.  In 1938 the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the School of Dentistry forged plans to construct a building specifically for postgraduate dental instruction.  Construction began the following year.  It was the UofM School of Dentistry that in 1945 collaborated with the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan to launch a water fluoridation program that ushered in one of the most successful public health projects in history.

The older I get the more I appreciate my profession and the educational opportunities that came my way.  My personal dental legacy rests firmly on the shoulders of countless contributors who paved the path for me.

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