A brief history of African Americans in dentistry in honor of Juneteenth


As we strategy Juneteenth on June 19 and start paying homage to outstanding African Individuals in dentistry, it’s almost not possible not to think about Dr. Robert Tanner Freeman, Dr. George F. Grant and Dr. Ida Grey Nelson Rollins.

Having been modernized within the early 1700s by the groundbreaking publication of “The Surgeon Dentist” by the “father of contemporary dentistry” Pierre Fauchard, dentistry for the primary time had a complete system for caring for and treating tooth. However, within the late 1800s, previously enslaved individuals have been met with great obstacles to care, one thing that has remodeled over centuries right into a multi-faceted problem and a focus for organized dentistry and advocacy efforts.

In 1867, Dr. Robert Tanner Freeman rose as a beacon of hope for African Individuals, enrolling at Harvard College’s College of Dentistry as part of their inaugural class. Though Freeman had been rejected from quite a few different dental faculties as a result of coloration of his pores and skin, this son of former slaves went on to turn out to be the nation’s first African American dentist after graduating in 1869.

Dr. George F. Grant was additionally the son of former slaves. After graduating from Harvard College’s dental college in 1870 with honors, Dr. Grant turned the second African American dental graduate and the primary African American school member at Harvard. He additionally invented the wooden golf tee.

In 1890, Dr. Ida Grey Nelson Rollins turned the primary African American girl dentist, graduating from the College of Michigan College of Dentistry. Dr. Rollins was a former seamstress and ultimately turned the primary African American girl to personal a dental observe in Cincinnati in addition to Chicago.

Though these monumental figures and their accomplishments set new heights for African Individuals and aspiring dentists, it was not the ending level, nor the ultimate vacation spot. In 1837, the primary Traditionally Black School and College (HBCU) was based, laying the framework for the founding of over 100 HBCUs situated primarily within the southeastern states. Since their inception, HBCUs have educated African Individuals who have been barred from attending predominantly white schools and universities, offering a protected and inclusive neighborhood. Two of these outstanding HBCUs, Howard College School of Dentistry and Meharry Medical School College of Dentistry, aren’t any totally different.

The Howard College School of Dentistry was established in 1881. It’s the fifth oldest dental college in the USA, and with its longstanding dedication to racial integration and gender equality in dental schooling, it has graduated extra African American dentists than every other college within the nation. Meharry Medical School was based in 1876, with the “mission of educating former slaves within the therapeutic arts.” With related initiatives as Howard, Meharry has been religious in service to the underserved, while producing well-rounded practitioners via a tradition of compassion, competence, camaraderie and mental rigor.

As we proceed advancing the sphere of dentistry, we circle again to reducing obstacles to care and recognizing the necessity for higher well being fairness; thus reinforcing the significance of HBCUs and HBCU dental faculties. These establishments serve a major position of accelerating variety inside the dental neighborhood, the place the brokers of change functionally and holistically signify the communities we intend to serve.

~Aparecio Peggins, Meharry ’23



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