Alzheimer's Disease

Heart Disease

Pediatric Nutrition
Medical Center History
Research Briefs
Around & About
POV


In 1916, when the telephone rang after midnight at the house of one of the founders of the Columbia University School of Dental and Oral Surgery, he had a pretty good idea of who was on the other end of the line. Undoubtedly, it would be Dr. William J. Gies, who often called founders after midnight to discuss new ideas, much to the unhappiness of the founders' families.

Everyone forgave Dr. Gies though, says Dr. Allan Formicola, professor of dentistry and former dean of SDOS and now vice dean for Columbia's Center for Community Health Partnerships, because his intense effort was directed that year toward a monumental goal—creating a dental school at the university.

Dr. Gies, a professor of biological chemistry at P&S, became interested in dental research and education in 1909 when members of a committee of the New York Institute of Oral Pathology asked him to join them in biochemical research related to dentistry. He soon began studying dental caries (cavities) and periodontal (gum) disease.

In 1919, Dr. Gies founded the Journal of Dental Research, partly with his own money, and served as its first editor until 1935. Dr. Gies also was a key player in starting both the International Association for Dental Research in 1920 and the American Association of Dental Schools in 1923. The journal and the two associations are still the foundation of dental research and education, says Dr. Ira B. Lamster, SDOS dean.

Dr. Gies is perhaps best known for the Gies Report, his 1926 Report on Dental Education in the United States and Canada. The Carnegie Foundation sponsored the report at the behest of university-affiliated dental schools as a follow-up to the 1910 Flexner Report. That report detailed the weaknesses of North American medical schools, which at the time were privately owned trade schools. Dental schools in the 1920s suffered from many of the same problems—they were mostly low-grade trade schools unaffiliated with universities. The faculties of the university dental schools wanted to bring more rigor and medical and scientific instruction to dental education in general.

The Carnegie Foundation chose Dr. Gies to write the report because of his commitment to dental education, and he visited and critiqued each dental school in the United States and Canada. As a result of his findings, Dr. Gies advocated that incoming dental students have at least two years of university level education—something already required of medical students in the 1920s, but not of dental students. (In 1919, before the report, SDOS was the first dental school to require applicants to have finished two years of college.)

Dr. Gies wanted dental schools to receive recognition and support from universities on par with medical schools. He believed dental students' education should be equivalent to that of medical students and should be focused on preparing dentists for general practice, leaving specialization for postdoctoral training. With his research background, he stressed the importance of the biomedical sciences in the dental school curriculum and advocated that dental schools initiate research in the basic biology of oral structure and the pathology of oral-facial disease.

As dental schools began to adopt the report's recommendations, the field of dentistry moved closer to becoming an oral specialty of medicine, says Dr. Formicola, who also is president of the William J. Gies Foundation. Accreditation standards and stricter admission requirements to dental schools were established, which raised the quality of dental education and the caliber of students and engendered new respect for dentistry.

Dr. Gies' belief that dental schools should teach the basics of general medicine first is still in practice at SDOS, where students focus largely on biomedical science in their first two years, sharing many classes with medical students. "By the time our students do their hospital rotations and their residencies, they realize they have knowledge and preparation that helps them acclimate to medical settings more quickly," says Dr. Letty Moss-Salentijn, the Dr. Edwin S. Robinson Professor of Dentistry and associate dean for academic affairs at SDOS.

In 1936, a decade after the Gies report was published, Dr. Gies retired from the Columbia faculty; in 1956, he died at the age of 84. A prolific writer and researcher, Dr. Gies wrote more than 600 papers, pamphlets, and books. When his papers were collected at Columbia's Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library, it took more than 10 volumes to hold them all.

Ever the scientist, Dr. Gies likely would make a balanced assessment of dental education today. "Dr. Gies probably would want to see medicine and dentistry interact more than they do," Dr. Formicola says. "But he would be impressed by the depth of dental education, quality of students, and amount of basic research being done, especially in immunology and genetics as they relate to oral disease."


[Top]