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January 2019
Volume 40, Issue 1

A Force in Organized Periodontics

To honor the life and passing of D. Walter Cohen, DDS, the Founding Editor of Compendium of Continuing Education in Dentistry, the journal will feature a series of tributes from various leading healthcare organizations with which he had a significant relationship. This first installment is from the American Academy of Periodontology.

When D. Walter Cohen, DDS, passed away on June 29, 2018, dentistry lost an elder statesman whose influence left an undeniable imprint on the lives of his peers and protégés. Remembrances poured in from numerous organizations on which he had made an impact, including the American Dental Association, the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, and even the Philadelphia Inquirer, his hometown newspaper.

Dr. Cohen was widely heralded for his work as a respected educator, visionary researcher, and thoughtful philanthropist. And, indeed, his many accomplishments deemed him worthy of iconic status: his Pennsylvania Experiment at Penn Dental School set an innovative standard for educating dental students; he created the Executive Leadership Program for Women in Medicine at Drexel University to address the "glass ceiling" that prevented women from ascending in their medical and dental careers; and in 1997, he established the Middle East Center for Dental Education in Jerusalem, an exchange program for students at Hebrew University and Al-Quds School of Dentistry. He accomplished all of this while authoring and contributing to 22 textbooks and more than 125 articles, notably "The Infrabony Pocket: Classification and Treatment," the 1958 paper that set the stage for regenerative therapy.

But here's a little-known fact: Dr. Cohen also was central to making the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) what it is today. More than a century after its founding, with approximately 8,000 members in the United States and around the world, the AAP is now a premiere membership organization for periodontists. But Dr. Cohen didn't join the AAP when he first entered organized periodontics in 1957, instead opting to become a member of the American Society of Periodontists (ASP). He rose through the ranks of the ASP, and at the group's inaugural annual meeting in Seattle in June 1962, he stood along greats such as Dr. Henry M. Goldman and Dr. Saul Schluger as one of many prominent speakers on the event's program.

In 1965, rumblings began about a possible merger between the AAP and ASP. Dr. Cohen served on a joint committee charged with investigating the merger and was instrumental in developing the terms upon which the two organizations would become one. He became the ASP's president in 1967 and worked to finalize the merger. On Oct. 25, 1967, members from both groups-935 total-voted unanimously to create a single periodontics organization in the United States, which became the AAP as it is known today. An editorial from the January 1968 issue of the AAP-published Journal of Periodontology(JOP) reads, "This action culminated a long series of formal and informal meetings between ‘men of good faith' in both organizations, who were firmly convinced that the cause of dentistry would be best served by one organization."

Over the next five decades, Dr. Cohen remained a dedicated Academy volunteer, with service on its continuing education, healthcare reform, and periodontal-medical interface committees. He was a member of the editorial advisory board for the JOP and Clinical Advances of Periodontics at the time of his passing.

In 1971, he received the Gold Medal Award, the Academy's highest honor bestowed in recognition of outstanding contributions and service to the Academy and to the specialty. He was also the 1977 recipient of the AAP's Fellowship Award for distinguished service of more than 10 years and the 1975 William J. Gies Award presented by the American Dental Education Association. In 2013, the AAP dedicated its 99th Annual Meeting (held in Philadelphia) to Dr. Cohen.

In 1990, he was one of the periodontists who established the AAP Foundation, the largest public charity in the United States devoted to periodontal education and research. Named Director Emeritus after two terms on the Foundation's board, Dr. Cohen believed strongly in its mission to secure the specialty's posterity by investing in students and academicians. For 10 years beginning in 2008, Dr. Cohen presided as chair of the Foundation's Lazzara Fellowship Selection Committee, overseeing the process by which a third-year post-doctoral student was selected annually to receive a $50,000 fellowship in advanced implant surgery.

With Dr. Cohen's generous support, the Cohen Teaching Fellowship was established in 2012 to assist third-year residents as they launch careers in periodontal education. Recipients of this $10,000 award have held professorships at Harvard, Tufts, Columbia, the University of California Los Angeles, the University of Michigan, and the University of Minnesota.

For all the gifts Dr. Cohen shared with the world, many periodontists will remember him for his exemplary leadership and service at the AAP. As Penn Dental graduate, educator, and researcher Robert Genco, DDS, PhD, said of his mentor in a recent remembrance in the JOP, "Dr. Cohen's life stands as a model for all of us who had the privilege of knowing him and learning from him. [Dentistry has] benefitted enormously from his life as a visionary and leader. He will be sadly missed."

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