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The Eastman Dental Center

Some years later I moved to New York and worked with special-needs children in the Rochester area. I trained at the Eastman Dental Center in its residency programs for adult and children’s dentistry. The Eastman Dental Center, long a sister establishment to London’s Eastman Academy, is associated today with the University of Rochester. Ultimately, I became a member of the faculty at the University of Rochester and director of the Eastman Pediatric Outpatient Clinic.
The Eastman Dental Center provides graduate training for dentists in many specialties. The center was originally the vision of George Eastman, the wealthy philanthropist and founder of the photographic company Kodak. In 1917, Eastman donated part of his fortune to develop a system he hoped would prevent dental disease among the children of Rochester. Before that time, dental care was available only for the wealthy, and preventive dental care was unknown.
Many forward-thinking doctors at that time were connecting general health with nutrition. George Eastman believed in good nutrition and also that dental health and general health were closely aligned. When Eastman established his dental clinics, he hoped to start a movement that would improve the general and dental health of children all around the world. During the 1920s, Eastman organized training for groups of women who were called prophylactic squads, the pioneers in what became modern dental hygienics. The squads were sent to Rochester schools with dental chairs, instruments, and slides to teach toothbrushing. It was Eastman’s hope that the children of Rochester would be the first of a future generation who would enjoy better teeth and less dental pain.
In London in the 1960s, the science of preventive dentistry was new and exciting. Thirty years later in the United States, I saw firsthand the painful reality of poor dental health almost a century after George Eastman established his dream, and I was appalled by the state of many children’s teeth. To this day the children of Rochester continue to suffer fillings, abscesses, and extractions; many need sedation or a general anesthetic for dental work that is so lengthy and complicated it has to be done under surgical operating conditions. The majority of children seen at the clinic are preschool age, which makes the situation even more distressing.1 Sadly, many of the children treated in the clinic have social and emotional challenges often made worse by their dental problems—problems that are preventable. As these children age, almost none will enjoy optimal dental health.2

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