Inside Dentistry
June 2013
Volume 9, Issue 6

Temple University’s Kornberg School of Dentistry Turns 150

Dean describes remarkable history, commemorative events, and ambitious future plans

Alumni of Temple University’s Kornberg School of Dentistry have recently been gathering in Philadelphia for a variety of events commemorating the 150th anniversary of the country’s second-oldest dental school in continuous operation.

Sesquicentennial activities have already included an evening gala at the newly relocated Barnes Foundation and a day of free extractions, fillings, and cleanings at the community dental clinic staffed and managed by faculty and student dentists. There have also been tours of the new and updated dental school facilities and the Temple Dental Museum, which houses dental antiquities, including the cornerstone of the original building, a replica of a 19th century Victorian dental office, and a wide variety of dental products and equipment from the past.

Examining the Past

Another exciting highlight occurred when current dean Amid I. Ismail, BDS, MPH, MBA, DrPH, opened a time capsule that was closed by former dean Gerald Timmons at the school’s centennial celebration in 1963. The contents, said Ismail, included newspapers, a Temple pin, silver coins, 5-cent stamps, and a letter to the future dean beginning with “Dear Sir”—written at a time when it was hard to imagine that about half of the graduating dentists only 50 years later would be women. Paraphrasing the letter, Ismail said that Timmons voiced a wish that his successors would inherit “a legacy of which you and your contemporaries can be proud” and implored them to “maintain the school’s proud legacy and embrace the many challenges to come.”

Dean Ismail described another sesquicentennial event he found particularly fascinating, a lecture given by a historian at the anniversary’s opening ceremony that depicted Philadelphia in 1863. “It was so exciting to learn that no one at that time—including the dental school founders—knew Philadelphia was preparing for an invasion by the Confederate army,” Ismail said. “General Lee hoped to win the war by overtaking Philadelphia, an effort foiled by the 69th regiment of Irish volunteers involved in the battle of Susquehanna.”

Part of the dental school’s proud history, said Ismail, has been a tradition of accepting a diverse group of students, making it an international center for dental education. For example, a Japanese citizen who graduated in 1891 later opened Tokyo Dental College and became the Emperor Dentist for three Japanese emperors. The current dental school festivities have been celebrated by two Chinese delegations, a Saudi Arabian dental school dean, and graduates from all over the world.

Ismail also recalled past challenges of managing dental disease, mainly tooth decay. When the school opened, he said, caries was a disease of the rich, because they had access to sugar, which was then expensive. Later, when heavy production made sugar cheap and widely available, the tooth decay level increased significantly in low- and middle-income populations, he explained. “From the latter part of 19th century and earlier part of the 20th century until the 1970s, caries was rampant; it was an epidemic,” said Ismail. “There was no preventive mechanism like fluoride, and oral hygiene was not emphasized as it is today.”

Ismail also described distinct eras that existed in the profession between 1863 and 2013 in terms of dental treatment. First was the caries epidemic, which led to pain, infection, and extractions. Next, he said, came the restorative era, which was followed by the fluoride-focused caries prevention and management era. Ismail called the current phase “the health promotion outcome and wellness era.” Elaborating on the current era, he said, “We are in the transition phase to expand comprehensive care from providing all the dental needs of the patient to focusing on oral health and how we can promote their health, as well as encourage patients to promote their own health.”

Looking Ahead

In keeping with the eras he described, Ismail said that the Kornberg School of Dentistry is “moving towards a comprehensive care model, where we provide not just the technical care and surgical restorative care, but also focus on health and wellness of the patient.”

Ismail explained, “We are at a turning point. We’re in the final stages of a restoration that will modernize the entire school, with all new equipment, the latest technology, and a different design in keeping with our focus on patient care and clinical excellence in terms of training dentists to practice and be capable of doing things immediately after they graduate.” To better prepare new dentists for practice, students will learn in one of four new integrated general dentistry clinics. These clinics will be managed like a regular practice, and students will be required to attend and participate as student dentists.

A dilemma faced now by the current dean is deciding what to put in the time capsule to be opened by his successor in 2063. “Just as in 1963, we could not have anticipated the significant changes—good and bad—that would occur during these 50 years,” he noted. “It will be a challenge even to determine the method of communication to use, given that dentistry’s digital revolution is sure to continue, and current methods are likely to be swept aside by future technology.” Most likely, Ismail said, the capsule he buries will contain a lot of images and documents from our current time, because looking at pictures and reading are timeless pursuits.

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