June 2019
Volume 40, Issue 6

Forging Penn’s Periodontal Prosthesis Program, Dr. Cohen “Changed the Face of Dental Education”

To honor the life and passing of D. Walter Cohen, DDS, the Founding Editor of Compendium of Continuing Education in Dentistry, the journal is featuring a series of tributes from various leading healthcare organizations with which he had a significant relationship. This installment is from Penn Dental Medicine.

D. Walter Cohen, DDS, was a second-generation dentist whose father, Dr. Abram Cohen, a 1923 graduate of University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, developed the first dental health program in Philadelphia's public schools. Walter, too, attended Penn Dental Medicine, graduating in 1950. Upon graduation, he completed a research fellowship in pathology and periodontics with Dr. Henry M. Goldman at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston. While in Boston, Walter undertook extensive training in periodontics, including Dr. Goldman's course, a combined study club with Columbia University, and time spent in Dr. Goldman's practice. Upon returning to Philadelphia, Walter joined his father in practice and began teaching part-time at Penn Dental Medicine.

In 1954, the Dean of Penn Dental Medicine, Dr. Lester Burket, asked Dr. Goldman to help establish a Periodontal Program at Penn. The program began a year later as a combined program, with the first year at Penn and the second year at Boston University. Dr. Cohen was responsible for teaching the first year. Along with Dr. Morton Amsterdam, he also established a course in periodontal prosthesis, teaching the principles, concepts, and techniques involved in saving the dentition ravaged by periodontal disease. These two gifted instructors informally trained their first students at the school and in their offices until 1963 when the periodontal prosthesis course had its first graduate from the university-based program. Then in that same year Penn established the Periodontal Program as its own, with Dr. Cohen becoming the first Director and, ultimately, Chair of the Department of Periodontics. The Periodontal and Periodontal Prosthesis programs at Penn became internationally recognized in the specialty for their in-depth teaching and ability to produce clinicians and educators. During its more than 60 years in existence, the program, thanks in large part to Walter Cohen, has produced hundreds of clinicians, practicing and teaching around the world and becoming internationally acclaimed educators and lecturers.

Dr. Cohen became Dean of Penn Dental Medicine in 1972 and served until 1983. During this time he continued to build programs at Penn, including one of his proudest accomplishments, the "Penn Experiment," in which dental students were trained and mentored alongside practicing dentists. Dr. Cohen also was passionate and proud of his work in the area of helping women ascend to more senior positions in dentistry and medicine. He was instrumental in starting the ELAM program, Executive Leadership Program for Women in Academic Medicine and Dentistry.

After his tenure as Dean, Walter went on to become President of the Medical College of Pennsylvania and, ultimately, a trustee of Drexel University College of Medicine and Chancellor Emeritus of the College of Medicine. Until his passing, Dr. Cohen continued to practice periodontics in the same Philadelphia practice his father began more than 70 years ago. In 1993 they both received the Penn Alumni Award of Merit, which is given in recognition of outstanding service to the University of Pennsylvania-the first time that a father and son ever received this award at the same ceremony. In 1994 he was bestowed with the Thomas Evans Award, the highest honor at Penn Dental Medicine. He remained involved in the school his entire life through the Alumni Board, speaking at alumni weekends, Periodontics department graduations, and many other events.

Reflecting on Dr. Cohen's life at his memorial service held at Penn, current Penn Dental Medicine Dean Dr. Mark S. Wolff remarked, "Dean Cohen not only shaped the future of the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, but he shaped the dentistry practice worldwide. He related periodontal disease to restorative dentistry, worked to enhance the outcomes of patient oral health, and changed the face of dental education. He served humanity worldwide with service to universities and patients throughout the world, including close relationships with schools in Israel and Europe. Individuals affecting generational changes touch us so rarely, but the Penn Dental community has the privilege of having been touched by Walter."

His longtime business partner and Compendium editor-in-chief Dr. Louis F. Rose added, "Walter loved telling people everything there was to know about Penn Dental. He gave life to the school and made it so much more than an academic building. He is a true visionary who had the instinct to find the right people to build and enhance his vision."

D. Walter Cohen was beloved by generations of Penn Dental Medicine faculty and students. Penn is proud to call him one of their own.

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