In late September, Tufts University dedicated its new Esther M. Wilkins Periodontology Clinic—a tribute to the late dental hygiene pioneer and 2015 Lucy Hobbs Award honoree.
IN OUR SUMMER 2015 issue, Incisal Edge was proud to name Dr. Esther M. Wilkins that year’s “Industry Icon” as part of the third annual Lucy Hobbs Awards. Dr. Wilkins, 98 years old at the time, was the pioneering figure of dental hygiene; her 1959 textbook, Clinical Practice of the Dental Hygienist, was then in its eleventh edition.
We noted in her profile that Dr. Wilkins had a state-of-the-art clinic named after her at Boston’s Forsyth School of Dental Hygiene. She was further honored this past September 23 when Tufts University—to whose dental school she was admitted in 1949, one of just three women in her class—dedicated its new Esther M. Wilkins Periodontology Clinic at the Tufts University School of Dental Medicine.
Dr. Wilkins died in December 2016, three days after her 100th birthday. Among the attendees in her stead for the clinic dedication were her niece, Betsy Tyrol, and grand-nephew, Mark Stevens. Tufts luminaries included Nadeem Karimbux, dean of the university’s dental school as well as a professor there; Y. Natalie Jeong, the school chair and a professor of periodontology; as well as a number of graduates and current students.
After the formal dedication of the clinic, the crowd listened to the inaugural Esther M. Wilkins Lecture in Periodontology, given by Dr. Andreas O. Parashis, a 1985 graduate of Tufts Dental who is now an adjunct professor there, as well as maintaining practices in Columbus, Ohio, and Greece. A reception in the alumni lounge followed his address. (The Wilkins Lecture will henceforth be an annual talk given by a luminary in the field.) It’s hard to overstate the influence Dr. Wilkins had on dental hygiene—her initial textbook volume codified a set of procedures at a time when the practice of hygiene was at best an afterthought in many dental offices. “She set the standard for how everybody began to teach dental hygiene, and that was the tipping point,” Ann Battrell, then the chief executive of the American Dental Association, told the New York Times in 2016 when Dr. Wilkins died.
In its obituary, the Times also noted the curious fact of Dr. Wilkins’s celebrity, at least among those in the profession: “At annual conferences for hygienists, Dr. Wilkins would be mobbed by fans who wanted a snapshot with her.”
Tributes, now in the form of this dedicated hygiene clinic, were legion. “I don’t think people appreciated dental hygienists,” said Dr. Tim Hempton, a Tufts periodontist who shared an office with Dr. Wilkins for years, “until she came along and made sure they did.”
I don’t think people appreciated dental hygienists until she came along and made sure they did.”
—Dr. Tim Hempton, periodontist at Tufts Dental