They helped the field of pediatric dentistry grow up
Their students called them Papa White and Mama Tsamtsou. When they stepped down as co-chairs of the pediatrics department after more than 30 years, George White and Anthi Tsamtsouris had not only transformed Tufts School of Dental Medicine, but the field of pediatric dentistry as well.
White became department chair in 1973, fresh off
completing his Ph.D. in nutritional biochemistry at MIT. He brought to Tufts an emphasis on research that would set it apart from other pediatrics departments. In addition to training students to rely on scientific evidence, he also launched the field’s first peer-reviewed journal, which helped pediatric dentistry gain its footing as a mature specialty. White and Tsamtsouris, DG73, DG76, J85P, J87P, D91P, DG94P, were also pioneers of the “whole-child” approach to pediatric dentistry, which takes a child’s overall physical and psychosocial well-being into account, in addition to the mouth.
“George had a lot of foresight,” says Leonard J. Carapezza, an associate clinical professor of pediatrics at Tufts. “The program kept looking ahead. George and Anthi set that tone.”
The couple is retired and lives in Florida. To commemorate their three decades at Tufts, alumni, friends and family, led by Carapezza and William Chan, D75A, DG82, D10P, DG13P, M.S.13P, established an endowment fund, now valued at more than $78,000. The money will be used “to support the department’s most basic needs and help us maintain our high-quality pediatric dentistry residency program and clinic,” Dean Huw F. Thomas says.
Current pediatrics chair Cheen Loo, DI10, says White and Tsamtsouris built a strong foundation for today’s graduates.
In 1973, the couple’s first task was to make room for pediatrics in the school’s then-new building at One Kneeland Street. Before the move, the department consisted of a dozen chairs at the Floating Hospital for Children. The lighting was poor, the equipment out-of-date. Tsamstouris lobbied Dean Erling Johansen, D49, to allow them to book one or two appointments a day for children using a few chairs on the third floor. She figured it would be easier for parents to bring their children in for treatment at the same time as their own appointments. She was right. “It turned out we had more [pediatric] patients there than at the hospital,” she says.
Soon the pediatric services at One Kneeland Street became so popular that Tsamtsouris rounded up some volunteers to roll filing cabinets and other office furniture—everything but the dental chairs—onto the elevators and up to the eighth floor, space used only at night for continuing education. The dean was notified the pediatrics department had taken over the “penthouse,” Tsamtsouris laughs.
Before 1980, the pediatrics department trained two or three residents each year; after that, there were up to a dozen. “Many of our students excelled professionally,” Tsamtsouris says. “We are very proud of them.”
Among them is Marc Saadia, DG81, now a prominent pediatric dentist in Mexico City. Saadia chaired the postgraduate and residency programs in pediatric dentistry at the Universidad Tecnológica de México and later became director of postgraduate programs there. “Dr. White taught me not what to think, but how to think,” says Saadia. Tufts’ pediatrics program, he says, was unique in its emphasis on evidence-based dental medicine.
In particular, White was a strong proponent of dentofacial orthopedics, a specialized branch of orthodontics that begins the process of correcting misaligned bites as early as age 7 or 8. “Everybody thought it was just a fad, but it was really a change in paradigm in the way orthodontics was done,” Saadia says.
White understood that it was important for the field to have its own peer-reviewed professional journal, and so in 1976 he launched the Journal of Pedodontics, later renamed the Journal of Clinical Pediatric Dentistry. (Saadia took over as editor-in-chief when White stepped down in 2005.)
Today, pediatric dentistry is the third most popular specialty among dental school graduates nationwide, according to the American Dental Association. Enrollment in postgraduate pediatric programs has nearly doubled since 2001. That’s in part, says Carapezza, because of White’s foresight.
“The specialty would not have advanced without its own journal,” says Carapezza. “Today pediatrics is the most valued of specialties.” –Jacqueline Mitchell