February Black History Month – Dental Specialists

February 1, 2023

It’s February and we’re celebrating Black History Month by highlighting Black leaders throughout history!

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Roscoe F. Lee was the first African American certified as a diplomate of the American Board of Oral Surgery. He received his DDS degree from Howard University College of Dentistry. After spending a few years in general practice, he joined Freedmen’s Hospital — now known as Howard University Hospital — to specialize in oral surgery. He was soon appointed chief of staff and senior visiting oral surgeon in the department, and eventually acquired the experience necessary to take the American Board of Oral Surgery examination. After an official examination in 1947, Dr. Lee became the first certified Diplomate of the American Board or Oral Surgery. In addition to his dental pursuits, Lee was a member of the Robert T. Freeman Dental Society and strongly advocated for racial integration in the professional arenas. 

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Charles Edwin Bentley is widely referred to as the father of the oral hygiene movement. Graduating from the Chicago College of Dental Surgery in 1887, he advocated for educating the public on the importance of oral hygiene, frequently writing and lecturing on the topic. Bentley proposed offering dental examinations in public schools and free clinics to give more people, particularly those who could not afford dental treatment, access to care. In 1906, the Illinois State Dental Society agreed to investigate the dental needs of children in public schools. A year later, they voted to create a booklet with basic facts about oral health. The 32-page booklet was called “The Care of the Mouth” and was published in 1910. Bentley was chairman of the Child Welfare Exhibit on Dentistry. He long served as the secretary of Provident Hospital. He was the first president of the Equal Opportunity League of Chicago. He was a charter member of the Niagara Movement, and of the directory of the NAACP. Dr. Bentley, an affluent, socially prominent private dental practitioner of Chicago, was born in 1859 and died in 1929.