Commemorating five decades of scholarship, achievement and outreach
Fifty years ago, the first class was accepted to the Stony Brook University School of Dental Medicine. Since then, the school has graduated more than 1,500 students who have dedicated themselves to delivering the highest quality of dental care throughout the country.
The golden anniversary was recognized the weekend of September 9 with a series of celebratory events, culminating in an alumni dinner that featured conversations with School of Dental Medicine luminaries Philias Garant, dean from 1979-1992; Vincent Iacono, faculty member, 1974 to present; and Ira Lamster, charter class graduate and dean emeritus, Columbia University College of Dental Medicine.
Howard Oaks was appointed inaugural dean of the School of Dental Medicine in 1968 and began recruiting faculty in 1970. Among the first hires was Iacono — SUNY Distinguished Service Professor, Tarrson Family Professor of Periodontology and Chair of the Department of Periodontics and Endodontics — who holds the unique distinction of having taught every student who passed through the program over the past 50 years.
“It has been wonderful to see our graduates go on to make an indelible impact in their communities — through the services they have provided, and more broadly by advancing oral health practice through research and leadership roles in professional societies and dental education,” Iacono said.
“His dedication to our students and residents sets a standard for us all,” said Dean Patrick Lloyd. “He has been a steady source of wisdom and insight over the past half century. He is often the first person people mention when I tell them that I am at Stony Brook, and they relay to me how influential he has been in his field of study and dental education.”
It was the relationship between the School of Medicine and the School of Dental Medicine that initially made the school appealing to Iacono. “Coming to Stony Brook, the goal was to create an institution at the time that would be second to none,” he said. “The link with the medical school intended to integrate all the disciplines in medicine and to truly recognize dental medicine as a medical discipline.”
Clinical Professor and Director of Pediatric Outreach Rhona Sherwin graduated with the school’s second class. The youngest graduate in her class at New York University at the age of 18, Sherwin majored in early childhood education but was inspired by her father, a dentist, to apply to dental school. The committee selected a diverse group of students from varied backgrounds to comprise the cohort, made up of 22 students.
“We were a small group and we were just all appreciative to have been accepted here. We were extremely close, very cohesive,” said Sherwin, who now leads the Mobile Oral Health Clinic team and the school’s community outreach efforts.
Fully equipped with three dental operatories, the mobile clinic is manned by a team of experienced faculty, hygienists, assistants, and pediatric dentistry residents that provides oral healthcare to underserved communities throughout Long Island, and communities that lack transportation or providers willing to accept their insurance. The mobile clinic returns to locations regularly to ensure continuation of care for patients in shelters or in school districts in which students lack resources. A new and larger mobile dental care clinic will make its debut this year, allowing Sherwin’s team to care for more patients throughout the county.
The School of Dental Medicine is Long Island’s largest provider of oral healthcare and the largest Medicaid dental provider in Suffolk County, and its Dental Care Center — the school’s teaching clinic — sees over 85,000 patient visits per year. “When I look back on it, having made a significant impact on the underserved of Suffolk County, it’s been my greatest achievement, and for which I have been recognized with the university Lifetime Achievement Distinguished Alumni Award,” said Sherwin.
The needs of the community have also influenced programmatic offerings for the school, which became one of the first in the country to offer a fellowship in the care of special needs patients. Because so many patients cite pain as the reason for their visits to the dentist, Lloyd has set a goal to recruit a pain researcher who can collaborate with others on campus in exploring pain transmission and in the development of new approaches in pain management.
Meanwhile, faculty members continue to make strides in dental research. In 2002, CaviStat, a cavity-fighting agent shown to be significantly more effective than fluoride, began clinical trials. CaviStat was developed by Distinguished Professor Israel Kleinberg, widely considered the “grandfather” of modern oral biology. Members of the School of Dental Medicine faculty hold more than 390 patents.
A highlight of the 50th anniversary dinner was the introduction of the collegiate mace, an institutional symbol of strength, and authority. Attendees were gifted a ceremonial coin replica of the mace, which includes the insignia of the school along with a branch with 32 leaves representing the number of teeth in an adult mouth, with flowers at the end of the branch with 20 buds, signifying the number of teeth in a child’s mouth. The ceremonial mace will be carried at graduation ceremonies.
Looking to the future, Lloyd envisions a larger physical space, closer to East Campus. “While we are proud to be the only school on campus with a clinical operation outside of medicine, our current location has limitations in terms of access to personnel, equipment and physical resources available on the East Campus,” he said. “A closer alignment of space and resources would significantly enhance our capabilities and enable us to fully leverage our potential, benefiting both our trainees and patients.”
The School of Dental Medicine has made great strides both within the classroom and the community. Its goal is to remain a vital part of the many communities served on Long Island, and continue the exemplary track record of public service, research, community collaboration and patient care.
— Beth Squire