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Good to the Last Bite

Dentistry in New Orleans

“Dentistry has a lot of immediate gratification,” says Dr. Edward Ireland, professor emeritus of Comprehensive Dentistry at LSU Dental School in New Orleans. “A person can walk in, get treated and then walk out with a smile on their face. It happens right then and there!”

An ad in the Picayune from Jan. 25, 1837 (the earliest issue available) noted: “A.L. Plough, Dentist” offered “Surgical and Mechanical Dentistry, at No. 68 Tchoupitoulas Street” daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Obviously, dentistry has been available in New Orleans consistently through those 178 years. In fact, all was running smoothly at LSU Dental School until Hurricane Katrina hit. The storm devastated the campus and meant big changes. Faculty and students relocated to Baton Rouge and only returned to New Orleans in 2007 (keeping a clinic in Baton Rouge).

Dean Henry Gremillion, a graduate of the school’s 1977 class, became head of the school in 2008. Now he’s eagerly awaiting a new 54,000 square foot addition to the school’s main building (funding courtesy of FEMA), which he describes as “a metamorphosis of our campus.”

The new building, according to Gremillion, will have four faculty practice areas in all disciplines, two operating rooms and recovery rooms, plus more space to train students in modern techniques. In the current building, a new laboratory will allow students to develop their skills on simulators.

Dental training in New Orleans has come a long way from the New Orleans Dental College, which opened in the 1860s and closed in 1877. The New Orleans College of Dentistry began in 1899, and New Orleans’ first woman dentist, Marie-Blanche Fassy, graduated from there in 1903.

When that school closed, Tulane University offered dental training from 1909 to ’28. Loyola University’s School of Dentistry began in ’14 and was phased out when LSU opened its school.

The last Loyola graduating class (including Ireland) was in 1971, but students had been smoothly transitioning to the LSU school, which graduated its first class in ’72 (and even took their first dean, Edmond Jeansonne, directly from Loyola).

Since it opened, LSU Dental School has graduated over 5,000 dentists, hygienists and lab technicians. Competition to enroll has become more intense. For the 65 positions in the freshman class, there are close to 750 applicants this year.

Besides being interested in health care, dentists need special skills. Both Ireland and Gremillion considered pharmacy (and both had relatives in that field). Dentistry, however, had a special appeal. As Ireland says, “It suited my personality. I love fixing things, putting things back together, and I like minutiae type of work.”

Enjoying working with patients is another plus – Gremillion was a dentist in his home town of Cottonport, Louisiana, before interest in research led him to spend 19 years at the University of Florida before being called back to New Orleans as Dean.

Dental care for the overall population is another important facet of LSU Dental School’s work. A new LSU Health Interprofessional Primary Care Clinic will open across the street from the school, with dental students and nurse practitioners offering care for residents of the neighborhood. In other outreach programs: there’s a dental bus with two chairs traveling and offering care; there’s a program at Ozanam Inn; “Give Kids a Smile Day”: NFL “Play 60” day; and a Mission of Mercy program treating 1,351 patients with 8,500 procedures at no cost in a two-day period.

A program, Pre-Dental 101, began in 2011 to allow students interested in dentistry to have a day of introduction to the school. “We expected maybe 25 students, we had 225 show up!” Gremillion says proudly.

The program continues to draw interest. Students learn about applying, what entrance exams they must take, and – in an unusual but relevant test – are shown how to carefully carve a piece of chalk following exact directions. “It’s not a test you pass or fail, but there’s a grading formula,” Gremillion says. The test can evaluate dexterity, the ability to work under stress and time constraints and even interacting with other students.

Think you might want to be a dentist? Watch this video of Ireland demonstrating: LSUSD. LSUHSC.edu/Video/DDSChalk.html

Try it yourself: You can chalk it up to experience!

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