Columbia University Medical Center
In Vivo - The Newsletter of Columbia University Medical Center
Back Issues
Contact Us
In Vivo

Dental School Changes Name

School of Dental and Oral Surgery marked its 90th birthday this year with its third change of


Dental student Jeffrey Krutoy

Dental student Jeffrey Krutoy, CDM’09, shows a child how to brush properly at the annual Give Kids a Smile Day in February at CDM’s Pediatric Dental Clinic. Tooth decay remains the most prevalent chronic disease of childhood in the United States, hitting low and moderate income families hardest.

name. The new name adopted by the dental school and recently approved by the university Trustees is the College of Dental Medicine (CDM).

Throughout its history, the school has been known for the excellence of its programs, built on a solid foundation in the biomedical sciences; the new name highlights this distinction. One of the first universities in the nation to establish an academically based dental school, Columbia led the way in demanding from each candidate an educational background of no less than two years of college. In 1916, the inaugural program offered by the new dental school was for a double M.D./D.D.S. degree, in which candidates first earned the M.D. before becoming eligible to go on for the D.D.S. The intent behind that early program continues today – Columbia’s dental students spend the first two years of school attending basic science courses with their peers at P&S.

Ira B. Lamster, D.D.S., M.M.Sc., dean of the College of Dental Medicine, emphasizes the suitability of the school’s name change, saying, “We prepare our students to help manage the total health of patients from the perspective of oral health, and our new name under-scores that approach to dentistry.” Dr. Lamster believes that the need to recognize the interaction of dentistry and medicine is clearer today than ever before. “Although we will continue to depend on the exquisite technical skills of dental practitioners, the changing demographics of our patient population will require a much more medically oriented attention to oral health,” he says.

This historic strength in research at CDM could be considered preordained. William J. Gies, Ph.D., a professor of biochemistry at P&S a century ago, often explored problems related to dental medicine and it was his determination to see, “a dental school along university lines,” that eventually led to the establishment of dental academics at Columbia.

Few dental schools have a research program as integrated into the medical center and university as exists in the College of Dental Medicine. Faculty and graduate students pursue the relationship of oral health issues to general health and preventive healthcare. Studies include the influence of oral infection on cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, on adverse pregnancy outcomes, and on diabetes. These projects provide learning opportunities for students who work in community service health programs, created in response to these studies. Other important efforts that seek solutions to public health problems encompass programs to help dental patients stop smoking and the study of methods for understanding social issues that influence oral health.

Further, under CDM’s leadership, collaborations have been developed with the Center for Skin and Mucosal Biology in the Department of Dermatology at P&S. In addition, promising research collaboration is ongoing with the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the School of Engineering (see related story about Jeremy Mao). CDM also has launched a long-term and wide-ranging analysis of the oral health care needs of the elderly. This work has already resulted in the implementation of relevant services in parts of Northern Manhattan served by the college.

"Faculty and students from the College of Dental Medicine work side by side with their colleagues from a wide range of medical disciplines and are tackling oral health issues from clinical, research and public policy approaches," says Gerald Fischbach, M.D., executive vice president of CUMC."With its historic mission of educating eminent practitioners and advancing scientific discovery and innovation in dentistry, Columbia’s College of Dental Medicine has earned its newest and most aptly descriptive name."

—Pat Farmer

Columbia’s Dental School: A Long & Distinguished History

The institution first known as the Dental School of Columbia University was established after petitioning by Columbia biochemist William J. Gies, Ph.D., and a group of prominent New York dentists. In 1916, Columbia’s President Nicholas Murray Butler granted approval and the new school opened with the highest academic requirements in the nation and two students enrolled in its six-year M.D./D.D.S. program.

In March 1917, Columbia absorbed the New York School of Dental Hygiene, the first of its kind to be a university affiliate. Later that year, the New York Postgraduate School of Dentistry, established a year earlier, joined Columbia’s dental school, adding much needed clinical facilities and expanding its faculty.

Enrollment grew, space remained short, but a 1923 merger with the larger, older and independent College of Dental and Oral Surgery created the Columbia University School of Dental and Oral Surgery (SDOS). Students spent mornings at a former P&S complex on West 59th Street at 10th Avenue, studying basic sciences just as they do today. After lunch, they walked to classes at the dental school, housed in two buildings facing each other on East 34th Street.

The eastside/westside journey came to an end in 1928 when SDOS moved to the new Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in Washington Heights.