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Dr. Esther Wilkins wrote what has become the cornerstone text in almost every hygiene education program around the world. (Photo: Yoon Byun, Tufts Now, Tufts University)
0 Comments Jan 12, 2017 | News USA

Industry loses pioneer dental hygiene educator

Post a comment by Tufts Now, Tufts University

MEDFORD, Mass., USA: Esther Wilkins, RDH, DMD, a Tufts University graduate and clinical professor of periodontology emerita, died on Dec. 12, 2016, at her home in Hudson, N.H., She had just turned 100. Wilkins was a renowned authority on dental hygiene, and she had a profound influence on dental medicine for more than half a century.

She was a member of the faculty of the department of periodontology at Tufts for 45 years and conducted more than 800 continuing education classes. She was the recipient of a number of important awards, including the Gies Award for Achievement by a Dental Educator in 2012.

It was her enthusiasm for her work and her drive to educate thoroughly as many people as she could about the power of prevention that made her “a shining star in dental and allied dental education,” said Richard W. Valachovic, president of the American Dental Education Association’s Gies Foundation. Wilkins wrote what has become the cornerstone text in almost every dental hygiene education program in the United States and around the world, Clinical Practice of the Dental Hygienist, now in its 12th edition. Generations of dental professionals have been educated or influenced by her.

In 2008, she established the Dr. James B. Gallagher Jr. and Dr. Esther M. Wilkins Scholarship Fund, which has supported many Tufts dental students. She met Gallagher, her husband, while both were pursuing a postgraduate certificate in periodontology at Tufts. He passed away in 1988.

Wilkins was slated to receive the School of Dental Medicine’s Dean’s Medal, which recognizes individuals who have demonstrated loyalty, service and generosity, along with her classmate Hilde Tillman, Tufts clinical professor emerita of public health and community service, at a ceremony at the dental school on Dec. 16. The Tufts dental community celebrated Wilkins’ life and career during the event and awarded the Dean’s Medal to her posthumously.

Editorial note: The following thoughts about Dr. Wilkins are excerpted from a column by Hygiene Tribune Editor in Chief Patricia Walsh, RDH, in the August 2013 — Vol. 6, No. 6, Hygiene Tribune.

Reflections on our ‘true north’

I first met Esther Wilkins quite by accident. It was early in the morning at a Chicago convention. Marginally awake after 12 hours of convention festivities the previous day, I walked onto a hotel elevator. No badge, no makeup, and in search of strong coffee. I glanced at the person I shared the lift with and did a double take. I tilted my head to one side and said, “Aren’t you ...?” There she was, our Florence Nightingale. I was all alone with Dr. Wilkins for a whole glorious eight floors. The love we have for this hygienist is palpable. You see it at every book signing. We wish to hold her hand, feel her genuine warmth. Just being near her makes us feel like we are somehow connected to the original intention and purity of our profession. One of the highlights of the American Dental Hygienists Association annual meeting was a morning speaker who opened with an unofficial “benediction” taken from “The Book of Esther.” About a thousand dental professionals got the joke immediately and burst into wild applause.

When Dr. Wilkins spoke to us this year, not onstage, but via the jumbotron screen, you could have heard a pin drop. She is the “true north” on our professional compass.

... My first hygiene textbook, “Clinical Practice of the Dental Hygienist” (AKA, “The Book of Esther”), may be “old testament,” but it is the foundation of a vibrant and growing profession.

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