The USC School of Dentistry has come a long way since a group of 18 students got together in a spare room in 1897 to begin their dentistry studies under the guidance of the dean of the medical college.

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USC School of Dentistry

t all started in 1897, when 18 dental students gathered in a spare room borrowed from the medical college. They studied anatomy, physiology and chemistry with the medical students, as well as other relevant academic courses. Dean Henry G. Brainerd, dean of the medical college, initiated the program to meet the growing demand for dentistry. Now acknowledged as one of the leading dental schools in the United States, the School of Dentistry celebrates its centennial year amid technological advancements and disciplines that no doubt would awe Brainerd and his colleagues. Nearly 8,000 dentists, 2,000 dental hygienists and 1,500 postgraduate and international students have emerged over the years with training that upholds the school’s reputation for excellence in the basic sciences combined with hands-on clinical experience. In addition, the school serves its community by providing affordable dental care for more than 30,000 Los Angeles residents annually.

The College of Dentistry’s first class graduated in 1900. They are (top, l-r): W.B.P. Nehbel, U.D. Reed, J.R. Sabixhi, H.C. Gleason; (bottom, l-r): R.A. Schroeder, E.P. Hilliker, C.D.V. Lawford, W.L. Lowder, E.C. Kroeck and J.F. Galloway.

Today’s financial factors would also be staggering to the school’s founders: the first-year tuition then was $135. Instrument costs, totaling $115 over the three-year curriculum, were justified by the declaration that “these will give the student at graduation his necessary outfit for subsequent practice.” Today’s annual tuition is $34,998 and instruments cost $13,480 for the four-year doctoral dental program.

IN 1898, BRAINERD named Edgar Palmer as the first dean of the College of Dentistry, with responsibility for the organization and leadership of the college, which the National Association of Dental Examiners quickly placed on a list of recommended dental schools.
Three years later, Garrett New-kirk became the second dean and the school became formally affiliated with USC while remaining an independent corporation. On May 12, 1905, the “College of Dentistry of the University of Southern California” was incorporated. It was the first dental school in Southern California and, for 56 years, the only one west of the Rocky Mountains and south of San Francisco.
The purpose of the institution, as stated in its articles of incorporation, was “the teaching of the art and science of Dentistry, the recommending to the University of Southern California candidates for the degree of Doctor of Dental Surgery, and the doing of all manner of things necessary and proper in the furtherance of the above purpose.”

LEWIS E. FORD became dean in 1905 and stayed on for 39 years. During this period, the dental college grew into one of the most prestigious professional colleges in the nation. Enrollment, facilities, departments and curriculum grew steadily. By 1906, admissions required graduation from an accredited high school and by 1910, the dental college boasted a graduating class of 15 and a total enrollment of more than 80 students.

Clifton Dummett,
who chaired the first department of community dentistry.

In 1914, a new building for the school was erected at the corner of 16th and Los Angeles streets.
A course in electricity taught students about the use and upkeep of dental electrical appliances. Other programs assimilated and reflected advancements in the field, as exemplified in this notation of the college’s 1915-16 bulletin:
“The wonderful development in the field of anesthesia, which has been brought about in the past three years through the efforts of investigators in the medical and dental professions, constitutes the reason for the establishment of a department exclusively devoted to the study and practice of all methods of inducing general and local insensibility to pain.”
The school organized the Zeta Chapter of the honorary fraternity Omicron Kappa Upsilon to recognize students of highest character and scholarship. In 1917, the curriculum expanded from three to four years and professional fraternities began to develop.
Following World War I, enrollment skyrocketed from a pre-war registration of 173 students to a 1922 high of about 580 students. To accommodate such exponential growth, a new Science and Technic Building opened in 1920 at Figueroa Street and Exposition Boulevard. It was in constant use until 1969 with little modification.

THROUGHOUT THE FIRSTquarter of the 20th century the school experienced a steady increase in the number of graduates. While the first class was all male, the 1903 bulletin proclaimed, “The school is cheerfully coeducational.” Many classes included women and minorities long before the women’s and civil rights movements.

Associate dean Jorgen Slots heads a research team studying periodontal disease in children and adults.

The school has an equally long tradition of welcoming international students. In fact, the first class included students from Canada, England and Germany; the Class of 1901 attracted students from as far away as Armenia and Japan. A formal program for foreign-trained dentists began in 1967.
By 1926, the school’s library included nearly 1,800 volumes. Responding to a nationwide survey conducted by the Dental Education Council of America, the College of Dentistry upgraded its entrance requirements and offered a joint degree, the bachelor of science and doctor of dental surgery. As a result, the college became one of the largest Class A dental colleges in the country.
Further progress included the creation of a two-year dental hygiene certificate program in 1928, which later became a baccalaureate program. In 1934, the school offered its first graduate course of study, with a one-year graduate program in orthodontics.
Increased demands brought on by World War II resulted in an accelerated, year-round curriculum and a two-classes-per-year admissions policy in 1942, which remained in effect until 1946, when previous schedules resumed. Julio Endelman succeeded Ford as dean in 1944 and the university assumed full control of the school on Sept. 2, 1948, renaming it the University of Southern California School of Dentistry.
By 1952, Robert W. McNulty was dean and the Dental Science Center opened on 34th Street. The school constructed a new clinic with 200 chairs and a basement for graduate studies and other programs at a cost of $1.25 million. An additional wing, consisting of three lecture rooms, administrative offices, a library and record storage space, was added in 1958. A three-story addition to the clinical wing was completed in 1969 and, for the first time in nearly 50 years, the entire school was housed in one location, with the dedication of the Eileen and Kenneth T. Norris Dental Science Center.
While buttressed by its deans’ vision, the phenomenal success of the School of Dentistry rested with its faculty. Their reputations as educators, scientists and healthcare professionals secured the school’s continuing position as a leader.

Associate dean Roseann Mulligan in the Special Patient Care Clinic, designed to accommodate medically and physically compromised patients.

Among the outstanding professors in the early years were Lewis F. Ford in clinical dentistry; A.C. La Touche in operative dentistry and histology; J. Walter Reeves in basic sciences and physical diagnosis; Julio Endelman in dental pathology and therapeutics; Floyd Hogeboom in children’s dentistry; and Cora Ueland in hygiene. Later standouts were Spencer R. Atkinson, E.M. Jones, Rex Ingraham, Marsh Robinson, Ruth Ragland and Lucien Bavetta, among others.
The 1960s and early 1970s were years of expansion. During John Ingle’s deanship, the school added specialty education programs in pedodontics, prosthodontics, perio-dontics and endodontics. A new dental degree program educated foreign-trained dentists in American techniques. Research expanded, and the recruitment of new faculty ensured the foundation for future growth. Clifton Dummett chaired the first department of community
dentistry, and the Dental Ambassador Program (now the mobile clinic) emerged.

TODAY, THE DENTAL SCHOOL is a leader in implant dentistry, which replaces missing teeth with implants integrated with bone. Faculty are studying various aspects, from the design of restorations to the management of bony and soft tissue, to make replacement teeth function and appear as natural as possible. USC incorporates implant dentistry in the pre-doctoral curriculum and specialty students in prosthodontics, periodontics and oral surgery work together to provide care for the large number of patients seeking implants at the school.

Dental students – and their teachers – have computer access at the school’s John D. Soule Computer Learning Center.

Faculty also are investigating alternatives to currently used dental materials. Many of their studies focus on improved alloys, ceramic materials and adhesives with increased durability – and even the cloning of the gene responsible for enamel production with the hope of someday producing a dental restorative material based on human enamel.
At the school’s 90th anniversary celebration in 1987, William H. Crawford, dean at the time, said the School of Dentistry “did not gain its reputation by mere survival ...” but rather by “making an impact upon society, upon the dental profession and upon individual lives.... The school has produced a steady supply of talented and well-educated dentists, specialists and hygienists for a continually expanding Southern California population.”
To help the school adapt to changes in research, patient care and service activities, the Pew Charitable Trusts of Philadelphia awarded a two-year $98,000 grant in 1985 to establish and sustain a planning process, as part of the $8.7 million Pew National Dental Education Program. In 1988, the school was one of six institutions to receive a second-phase grant of $750,000.

IN 1991, HOWARD M. LANDESMAN, the G. Donald and Marian James Montgomery Professor of Dentistry, became dean. Landesman is an internationally recognized prosthodontist, a diplomate and immediate past president of the American Board of Prosthodontics.
In 1996-97, the school enrolled 525 dental students, 98 dental hygiene students, 60 international students, 79 postdoctoral students in advanced specialty programs and more than 26 M.S. and Ph.D. candidates. In addition, USC provides continuing education for dental professionals, locally and around the world. Addit-ional combined degree programs have been established, including the D.D.S./M.B.A. with the School of Business Ad-ministration; the oral surgery/M.D. program with the School of Medicine; and the D.D.S./M.S. degree with the School of Gerontology.

Howard Landesman: “The USC School of Dentistry has a deserved reputation as a leader in dental education today.”

For the last five years, the school has ranked among the top 10 dental institutions in research funded by the National Institutes of Health. More than 20,000 square feet of space is dedicated solely to research, much of it at the Center for Craniofacial Molecular Biology on the Health Sciences Campus. Basic and clinical research projects mirror the faculty’s diverse expertise, and researchers from around the world frequently visit to learn about new methods and concepts. The renovation of all pre-clinical facilities and construction of a new orthodontic clinic and a library/learning center are nearing completion.
Landesman notes that many alumni remain involved with the school and in affiliated partnerships for a lifetime.
The generosity of individual alumni and organized support groups, such as the Century Club and Dentistry Associates, has enhanced the school substantially, making possible the establishment and continual improvement of the school’s educational and research facilities. Nine endowed chairs and professorships have enabled the school to recruit and retain world-class scholars; a growing number of endowed scholarships assist the school in competing for the best students.

AS THE SCHOOL ENTERS the 21st century, it continues to emphasize its tradition of excellence, Landesman says.
“If reputation can be measured by the quantity, quality and geographic diversity of a school’s applicant pool; the quantity, quality and diversity of its students; the quality and reputation of its faculty; the diversity and quality of its program offerings; the amount of federal grant support for its research programs; and the financial support of its alumni, then the School of Dentistry has a deserved reputation as a leader in dental education today.
“When I took on the role of dean in March 1991, I had a vision: to build upon a legacy of excellence,” he adds. “As we start this centennial year, I feel more than fortunate. I feel blessed to be associated with the faculty, students, staff, alumni and friends of the school who are striving together to make this vision a reality.”



photo of Clifton Dummett courtesy USC University Archives / photo of Howard Landesman by Robert Pacheco / All other photos by Eric Tucker

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