Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
104-year-old Eli P. Zebooker, DDS, discusses dentistry with his protégé and his grandson
It was 1955. In a brownstone on the 1900 block of Spruce Street in Philadelphia, a first-grader stood in the dentist’s reception room in front of the aquarium. His mother scolded him for tapping on the glass and disturbing the fish. She explained to the boy, his younger brother, and their two older sisters that in each treatment room, Dr. Zebooker was helping people with their dental problems and that everyone who was treated there was better off because of it. What a job: helping people all day! Sixty-three years later, the man who that boy became remembers knowing then that he wanted to be like Dr. Zebooker. That boy was me.
Eli P. Zebooker, DDS, is a 1940 graduate of University of Pennsylvania School of Dentistry (now the School of Dental Medicine), who practiced in Philadelphia until 1989. Now 104 years old, he spends time reading dentistry journals and keeping up with advancements in the profession. His grandson, Max Ephraim, a trained geologist, is now preparing applications to schools of dentistry. In August, these past, present, and future practitioners of dentistry joined together for a lively conversation with AEGIS Communications’ president, Anthony Angelini.
“Dr. Z’s” comments were eloquent and profound; excerpts are below:
Angelini: What did you love most about being a dentist?
Zebooker: I was an individual and my own boss; that was the best thing. I liked dentistry very much. I did all of my own gold castings and bridge- and crownwork. I would make many units of fixed bridgework—4 to 5 sometimes. I could solder them because I knew how to do it. I liked dentistry; it gave me the ability to do what I liked to do.
Croll: We have both seen it all when it comes to treating children. What is one piece of advice you would offer about pediatric dentistry?
Zebooker: Do not say, “Don’t be scared.” Once that word is used, it’s over. You’re done. It is similar to telling someone, “I don’t know, but I think you will like this.” Immediately, they will be influenced to not like it. The presentation is key when making children comfortable in the dentist’s office.
Croll: How did your work with the Chil-dren’s Aid Society of Pennsylvania develop?
Zebooker: One of my patients was the director of the society, and she asked me to develop a program that could help children who were living in foster care get dental treatment. I called dentists who lived in areas near these children and asked them to intervene. A case worker could pick the child up, bring him or her to the dentist, and return the child to school in only 2 to 3 hours. The children received 100% complete dentistry. I insisted upon one thing: Every child must come in every 6 months and receive a local application of sodium fluoride. The Children’s Aid Society would send participating dentists a check every month. Every year, I sent a report, and the number of children treated increased considerably over time. We did this for 30 years, treating more than 6,000 children, in total. I am very proud of that.
Zebooker: I enjoy doing research and am still very much involved with current topics in dentistry. I read constantly and have also written articles about Charles I, Greek paganism, Shakespeare, Churchill, and the American Civil War.
Ephraim: You know that I plan to bring you into my practice some day to see CAD/CAM equipment, right?
Zebooker: I’m looking forward to it!