A 150 year legacy

During Harvard School of Dental Medicine’s sesquicentennial, we reflect on the School’s proud educational legacy and the people, places, and accomplishments that are important to our history. With 150 years behind us, we look ahead to the promising future of dental education and research.

Historic Timeline


Message from the Dean

Dean Bruce Donoff

During the 150th anniversary year of the Harvard School of Dental Medicine we celebrate the big idea that dental education was to become a part of this university and medical education here. That was a groundbreaking concept in 1867, and one that is amazing and worthy of celebration.

As the first dental school of its kind, we’ve led the way in dental education, research, and clinical care. As we reflect on all that has been accomplished, we thank our predecessors who had the foresight to create this great institution. We also thank our friends, alumni, benefactors, faculty, students and staff who continue to make the Harvard School of Dental Medicine such a special place. Please join us in celebrating this momentous occasion.

Dean Bruce Donoff, DMD67, MD73

150 Year Legacy

Educational Legacy

As the first dental school to be affiliated with a medical school and University, HSDM established an academic environment and prestige for dentistry to become a learned profession.

It was also the first to confer the DMD (Dentariae Medicinae Doctorae) degree, solidifying the relationship between medicine and dentistry. This beginning was followed by a series of initiatives, clinical breakthroughs, and curriculum innovations that further shaped dental education as we know it. 

HSDM alumni have been important in the evolution of the profession, its scope, education, scholarship and leadership. Numerous HSDM graduates have gone on to roles as academics and into leadership positions within dental education, research and practice. Additionally, many dental schools have been patterned after HSDM and were started by Harvard graduates, some examples include: the University of Connecticut, University of California at Los Angeles and Stony Brook to name a few.

Research and Discovery

In 1908, HSDM received its first research grant in the form of a bequest from Harriet Newell Lowell, a well-known philanthropist.

The grant was allocated “for scientific study and investigation in any department of Surgery, and into the cause, treatment, prevention and cure of disease, including dental surgery and pathology.” The Harriet Newell Lowell Society for Dental Research established at HSDM was the world’s first society for dental research.

Today, the School continues to lead research in many areas, including skeletal biology and the pathology of bones, joints, vascular and connective tissues. It is at the forefront of research into the cause and cure for diseases of bone and craniofacial soft tissues. Such research enables dental medicine to impact new avenues of research and investigation into major skeletal disorders such as osteoporosis and osteoarthritis, autoimmune diseases, tumor biology, and wound healing, taking dentistry beyond the mechanical techniques, and repositioning the discipline firmly in the realm of biology.

"The work we do is fundamental to understanding, and treating diseases. Our focus is to make discoveries that will have implications far beyond what we’re working on as well as far beyond dentistry."


Bjorn Olsen, Dean of Research

Clinical Innovation

HSDM was founded long before innovations such as reclining dental chairs and high speed hand tools. Today’s Harvard clinics look nothing like those of the past.

Modern patient care is delivered through two state-of-the-art clinical practices within the Harvard Dental Center: the Faculty Group Practice, where HSDM faculty apply current research and specialty care to patient needs; and, the Teaching Practices, where academics and skills training go hand-and-hand for students as they practice what they’ve learned and deliver much-needed patient care.

This approach is unique at Harvard, as HSDM is the only school within the University to provide direct patient care. 

Today’s students also have the benefit of working with the latest clinical equipment including digital capabilities for record­ing real-time dental impressions, facial scans, and other dental digital technol­ogy.

Through a number of ongoing research projects, patients are invited to participate the clinical research projects in areas such as implantology and teledentistry. The School is also pioneering innovative models that integrate primary care and dentistry.

Give Kids a Smile

Community Impact

Throughout the School’s history, HSDM faculty and students have actively served the greater Boston community. The School’s community involvement began in the 1950s with the Harvard Dental Public Health Unit, and continues today with numerous public outreach programs, community clinics, oral health screenings, and free clinics.

HSDM provides care to thousands of patients in the greater Boston area through programs such as: Action for Children and Teens in Oral Health Need (ACTION), Crimson Care Collaborative, Increasing Special Care Access and Patient Equality (iSCAPE) Special Needs Clinic, Pediatric Screening Program at the Boys and Girls Club, Project Bridge, Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Pop-up Clinic, Give Kids a Smile, Operation Mouthguard, and others.

"An important part of our mission is to expand access to oral health care to underserved populations, whether in remote areas of the world or here in the United States."


Jane Barrow, Assistant Dean of Global and Community Health

Global Reach

Deeply rooted in HSDM’s mission is the commitment to fostering global health leaders and addressing the lack of access to oral health around the globe.

As early as 1910, Harvard Dental School students began delivering oral health care overseas by volunteering with the historic Grenfell Mission to Labrador, a service that introduced dentistry to the impoverished coasts of Labrador and North Newfoundland, and lasted for two decades.

Today, faculty and students are involved in oral health and dental education programs around the world. They have provided clinical care in countries such as Ethiopia and Senegal through the United Nations Millennium Villages Project. They have served rural school children in China through Project HOPE; delivered clinical and dentistry care to orphaned children in northern India; and taught oral health care and treated patients in Cambodia, Cyprus, Ecuador, Greece, Guatemala, Peru, and Vietnam among a growing network of countries.

More recently, HSDM has been actively involved in projects in Rwanda and Haiti. In Rwanda, HSDM is involved in a collaboration with the University of Maryland School of Dentistry and the National University of Rwanda that launched the first-ever School of Dentistry in the country. In Haiti, HSDM is working with the Haiti Dental School on a new curriculum to teach primary care givers about basic dental care.


Photo Gallery



Sesquicentennial Gala

Thursday, May 4, 2017, at the Harvard Art Museums
Harvard School of Dental Medicine (HSDM) celebrated its 150th anniversary with a Sesquicentennial Gala held on Thursday, May 4, 2017. The event brought together nearly 150 HSDM alumni, faculty, students, and friends for a festive evening at the Harvard Art Museums. Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust kicked off the Gala with congratulatory remarks and a champagne toast. Read more.


HSDM 150 Stories

Linda Niessen

Linda Niessen

DMD77, MPH77, PD82

Throughout its 150-year history, the Harvard School of Dental Medicine has played a major role in dental education. As the first dental school to award a Doctor of Dental Medicine, the Harvard School of Dental Medicine has always educated dentists that oral health is intricately related to systemic health. Read More.

Ken Wright

Kenneth Wright

DMD78, MPH79

It was my Harvard training and background that gave me the courage and discipline to be a leader. It’s part of the Harvard mission that every student embraces whole-heartedly. When you leave HSDM and become part of the community, you see how proud the Harvard community is. You want to live that, and embrace it. Read More.

Sheila Riggs

Sheila Riggs

DMSC91, PD91

The power of creating new knowledge, and working in collaboration with people that cared about the same topic that you did, really set me up for a very impactful professional career. Read More.

Funding The Future