Our Dental Blog

Read Our Blog

A Look Back at Famous Black Dentists in History

Posted on: February 19th, 2024 | Categories: Dental History, Women in Dentistry

The world of dentistry, like many other fields, has been shaped by numerous talented and determined individuals, among whom black dentists hold a special place for their pioneering achievements and contributions. Despite facing significant racial and social barriers, these trailblazers have not only excelled in their field but also paved the way for diversity and inclusion within the dental profession. It’s the foundation that they laid that enabled black dentists, like the one at our dental office in downtown DC, to pursue a dental career in the US. For Black History Month we honor some of the most famous black dentists in history, whose legacies continue to inspire and influence.

Dr. Robert Tanner Freeman: The First Black American Dentist

Dr. Robert Tanner Freeman holds the distinction of being the first African American to graduate from a dental college in the United States. In 1869, he made history by graduating from the Harvard University Dental School, breaking racial barriers in the process. Freeman’s journey was not an easy one, having been rejected by two other schools on racial grounds before applying to Harvard. He applies to Harvard Dental School when it was first founded and was one of the six first graduates from the school.

Dr. Ida Gray Nelson Rollins: The First Female Black Dentist

As an all-female dental office in DC this pioneering woman dentist holds a special place in our hearts. Dr. Ida Gray Nelson Rollins was the first African American woman to earn a dental degree in the United States. In 1890, she graduated from the University of Michigan School of Dentistry and went on to practice dentistry for over thirty years. Dr. Rollins’ practice in Chicago catered to a diverse clientele, breaking down barriers for both women and African Americans in the dental profession. One of her patients, Olive Myrtle Henderson, was actually inspired to become a dentist as well, becoming the second black dentist in Chicago.

Dr. George Franklin Grant: Dentist, Educator, and Golf Innovator

Dr. George Franklin Grant was not only the second African American graduate of the Harvard Dental School but also an inventor and a respected educator. As an educator he had the distinction of being the first black professor at Harvard and the first professor of dentistry in the country.

In addition to being a trailblazer for black dentists in the US, he was also an avid golfer. While golfing he was looking for a better way to hold the ball in place, since at the time players would use a mound of sand. In 1899, he patented the wooden golf tee, and was shared his creation with his family and friends. Of all the golf tees used at the time, this golf tee was the most similar to what is currently used today. He never marketed the tee however and is currently better known for his achievements in dentistry.

Dr. Clifton O. Dummett: Youngest Dean in the United States

Dr. Clifton O. Dummett is celebrated for his extensive research and writings on the history of dentistry, particularly focusing on the contributions of African Americans. His scholarly work has provided invaluable insights into the evolution of dental practice and the role of black professionals in shaping its course.

He was the first black person to receive a master’s degree in public health and the youngest dean in the US at the age of 28 when he became the dean of Meharry Medical College.

Dr. Jeanne C. Sinkford: Breaking New Ground for Women in Dentistry

Dr. Jeanne C. Sinkford is renowned as a trailblazer for women in the dental profession, becoming the first woman to become dean of an American dental school (Howard University College of Dentistry) in 1975. Her leadership and advocacy for women in dentistry have led to increased opportunities and recognition for female dental professionals across the country, like the ones in our DC dental practice.

These individuals, among many others, have played crucial roles in the advancement of dentistry while overcoming significant obstacles. Their achievements have not only contributed to the field of dentistry but have also inspired countless others, including the dentists in our practice, to pursue their dreams regardless of the barriers they may face. The legacy of these pioneering black dentists serves as a testament to the power of resilience, excellence, and the enduring impact of breaking down barriers in pursuit of a greater good.

Terms and Conditions

Here at Dental Town DC, we work diligently to protect our patient's rights and privacy. Requesting an appointment via our Internet portal is considered part of what HIPAA has identified as electronically protected information (ePHI). Unfortunately, despite the best efforts we make or take, there are people or entities that may attempt to intercept the data you transmit to us. By checking the box, and electronically making an appointment, you understand that you are making an appointment over the internet and that Dental Town DC will keep this information confidential but cannot guarantee that others, outside of our practice, may not illegally intercept this communication. As a result of continuing, you are sending this transmission and accepting the inherent risk(s) associated with making this request for an appointment. As an alternative, you are always welcome to contact our office via telephone to schedule your appointment.