Author Archives: Angelique Bannag

Alumni Profile | Dr. Eric Curtis ’85 Making Familiar Things New

By David W. Chambers 

“The two most engaging powers of an author are to make new things familiar and familiar things new.” Attributed to Samuel Johnson, William Makepeace Thackeray and others.

If you want to see some examples of the latter, read Dr. Eric Curtis. It is worth it.

Curtis graduated from the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry in 1985, followed by a year of residency at the University of Lausanne Faculty of Medicine. His first of many articles in Contact Point appeared in 1990—30 years ago.  In addition to histories of the American Association of Orthodontists and the University of Oklahoma, he chronicled the amazing twists and turns of the first hundred years of our school.

“The two most engaging powers of an author are to make new things familiar and familiar things new.”

In his book, A Century of Smiles, Curtis recounts significant moments in the dental school’s evolution under the leadership of various deans. P&S students were the first in the country to wear gloves, masks and gowns in the clinic in 1906. That was because of a brief outbreak of the plague following the earthquake and fire. In 1923 four alums bought the charter of the school from its entrepreneurial founder Charles Boxton for $50,185. The contract stipulated that Boxton’s wife Elsie would stay on as janitor. In the 1930s, P&S introduced the nation’s first six-year combined BS + DDS degree program, which still exists. P&S remained the last independent dental school even though the Second World War saw a blossoming of interest in public health dentistry, research and technology such as the high-speed handpiece. Dean Earnest Sloman’s collaborative work at Stanford University almost led to an amalgamation in the early 1950s. Deans John Tocchini, Dale Redig and Arthur Dugoni turned what was once called the “school that would not die” into one that others wanted to be like. Dr. Ed Sims graduated in 1983, but just barely. Because of a motorcycle accident a few weeks before he could complete his clinical requirements, the school rallied to his assistance. That included professor of dental materials Armand Lugassy personally mixing impression material. Somehow, Curtis has the magic of putting us there so we can see it for ourselves.

Curtis practices in rural southeast Arizona. His has been a family practice in every sense of the word. For 31 years he worked side by side with his father, Dr. Kay D. Curtis. Eric’s daughter, Jillian, has been the hygienist in the practice for seven years. And the patients, they are like family too, both in the sense of many three-generation families and in the way people are treated.

Somehow, Curtis has the magic of putting us there so we can see it for ourselves.

What would a creative writing dentist have to say about this? Listen to excerpts from “Half Pipe Dreams,” a story that appeared in the Journal of the American College of Dentists in 2009:  A make-shift roller dome mysteriously appeared in the backyard one weekend and Curtis wanted an explanation from his son. “Tristan responded to my complaint with the single-minded, numbing circularity that makes parents fear their kids will grow up to be lawyers. ‘Tristan, why didn’t you ask us?’ ‘Um, I didn’t think about it. Scott was here this week, and you know, he knows how to build half pipes. Besides, you might have said ‘no.’ ‘Of course I would have said no.’ ‘Then why would I have asked you?’” Aren’t you there, totally amazed by a sloppy construction and the sloppy, but perfectly adolescent logic that supported it? But Curtis can see deep things. “Tristan vows that he will teach his children to skate and be ‘gnarly.’ Tristan will be blindsided by the coming irony. His children will grow up, blossoming unpredictably, carnations on rose bushes, to become—not inconceivably—studious, complicated and non-skaters.  He will rebel.  He will hate their music.”

There is humor and beauty and depth in the details that Curtis assembles for us to consider. He knows that we will separate the meaningful and human from the superficial. He calls it writing the truth. “It is value-laden and personal, an interpretation of reality.”

Curtis has been active in dentistry at the organizational level, including the American Dental Association, where he took an assignment on the Council on Communications, and the Arizona State Board of Dental Examiners. He has served stints as president of the American Academy of the History of Dentistry, the American Association of Dental Editors and Journalists, the Arizona Dental Foundation and the Arizona Dental Association. For 30 years, he has served as editor of the Arizona Dental Association.

Curtis is comfortable working at the policy level, but his writing allows us to touch and feel the small things, the personal reality on which dentistry is based. His collection of very short essays, From Hand to Mouth: Essays on the Art of Dentistry, is filled with glimpses of the ordinary but special things of practice. He notes that “artists and doctors both take on dual functions as participants in and detached observers of society.” 

“As a dentist, I write to find out what I do,” says Curtis. Writing makes the patient into a person, and the dentist, too. “If the reader comes away with any broader appreciation of dentistry’s cultural weight, I will count this volume a success.” 

The story “Hurry Up and Wait” reminds patients and dentists alike of a faint sense of lost status when the waiting room is too full for the patients and not full enough for the dentist. He muses that the American Association of Dental Surgeons initiated a pledge of no amalgams in 1856 and was defunct by 1859. He has an essay on the art of small talk at chairside, including mastering the art of the one-way conversation. Ironically, dentistry has killed pain and its association with guilt and inevitability. Pain, when it does happen, now suggests lack of caring or competence. “Open and Say Aw” is a commentary on dentistry’s surrender of craftsmanship in the name of efficiency.

He notes that “artists and doctors both take on dual functions as participants in and detached observers of society.” 

There is nothing to do but smile as you thumb through the titles of essays in From Hand to Mouth: “Dr. Jargon and Mr. Hide,” “The Incarnations of S Mutants,” “The Culture of Painlessness,” “Believe in the Tooth Fairy” and “Paddling Down the Root Canal.” 

Curtis teaches creative writing in the Arizona state educational system and practices family dentistry. He makes familiar things new.

Dr. Eugene LaBarre | Extraordinary Professor

By Marianne Sampogna Jacobson

Highly respected and much loved by patients, students and colleagues, Eugene LaBarre, DMD, MS, is undeniably deserving of his recent honor, the 2019 University of the Pacific Distinguished Faculty Award. Former student (now colleague), Dr. Cindy Lyon ’86, associate dean for oral health education, captured his essence, “He’s such a thoughtful, unassuming servant-leader and one of the best role models of what special things can happen when you bring together head, heart, hands, a generous spirit and sincere conviction to patient care and student education.” Throughout his extensive and productive career, LaBarre has contributed to the Dugoni School of Dentistry in a myriad of ways including course content creation, fundraising for local and global service initiatives, chairing numerous committees, garnering many awards and—most significantly—teaching.

A product of a Bronx, New York mother and West Virginian father, LaBarre considers himself “an unusual cultural amalgamation.” After moving around as a child, his supportive upbringing led him to Harvard University where in addition to his pre-med studies he was a member of the crew team. Inspired by his father and grandfather, both dentists, LaBarre knew from a young age he would likely pursue a career in health care. On visits home from boarding school, he had become familiar with how a dental practice operates by spending time in his dad’s dental office in Marietta, Ohio.

LaBarre first got the idea to teach while at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, which he described as a place where “the culture of educational Darwinism weeded out the weak.” As the course material came naturally to him, he tutored his struggling classmates in his free time and found the experience gratifying. After graduating, instead of private practice, LaBarre headed to Temple University to teach full-time. His first assignment was tricky. He was partnered with a cantankerous old-guard professor who employed punitive educational practices. LaBarre had to tread lightly, balancing a relationship with his senior colleague while finding ways to help and encourage students rather than malign and frustrate them. His firm but quiet style prevailed and the students felt like the sun came out for them when he inherited full rein of the course.

In every role, Gene has always represented the very best of our profession. — Dean Nader A. Nadershahi ’94

After teaching for two years, LaBarre was ready to learn more himself. He attended what he describes as “the rich creative environment” at University of North Carolina School of Dentistry, to earn a master of science degree and a certificate in prosthodontics. This began a lifelong curiosity and passion in the areas of prosthodontics and dental materials. He arrived at the Dugoni School of Dentistry to teach in 1981, during a period he calls “a revolution in dentistry.” It was an exciting time in the field, and he was placed on the school’s first implant team, so he was immediately involved with innovative materials and processes. He has enjoyed watching and contributing to the developments in the prosthodontics specialty and witnessing the introduction of cutting-edge techniques, which he brainstormed with entrepreneurs. Digital technology has changed the arena forever, and LaBarre is thrilled to be a part of the exciting transition to biocompatible materials from “boiling wax and cooking plastic.”

While he has delivered nearly 50 scientific presentations, he describes himself as “a teacher first and foremost.” But, he explains, “part of being a good teacher is staying current and having an ear towards research trends.” Teaching for more than 40 years but still enthusiastic about his profession and his calling, LaBarre is devoted to both his patients and his students. Dr. Yan Wang, professor and assistant dean at Guanghua School of Stomatology, recalls that LaBarre “taught continuously for hours without rest and his dedication greatly moved us” while on exchange in Guangzhou, China. Dean Nader A. Nadershahi ’94 describes him as “dedicated to his fellow humans, one who connects with others and goes into the community and creates opportunities for service.” Nadershahi adds, “In every role, Gene has always represented the very best of our profession.”

Numerous nominators for the 2019 University of Pacific Distinguished Faculty Award repeat the same accolades when describing LaBarre. Graduates from the Class of 2019, Drs. Michelle Fat and Hannah Fox, testify that he is incredibly skilled at communicating with patients, has an unwavering commitment to excellence and quality, possesses seemingly limitless knowledge and serves as a powerful and thoughtful mentor. As a natural teacher, LaBarre is known for his commitment to mentoring others. Dr. Lola Giusti, adjunct faculty member at the Dugoni School of Dentistry recounts that, “Gene spent many selfless hours mentoring me and other faculty members in his department.” His supporters mention the phrase “head, heart and hands” in describing Dr. LaBarre because he epitomizes an extraordinary educator with vast knowledge, deep care for patients and very skilled artistry.

After 37 years of teaching at the Dugoni School of Dentistry, 21 years as chair of the Department of Removable Prosthodontics and more than 15 years as director of the Faculty Practice, LaBarre still sees patients one full day per week. For fun and leisure, he enjoys the outdoors, especially hiking, backpacking and camping.

Pacific to Launch New Health School and Graduate Programs

University of the Pacific is leveraging its reputation for preparing healthcare professionals by instituting four academic programs and a new School of Health Sciences to meet the demands of a growing healthcare industry. Healthcare jobs are expected to increase by 18% from 2016 to 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, outpacing all other employment sectors. Existing educational programs in Northern California simply cannot meet the demand.

In addition to the successful physician assistant program launched in 2017, the Dugoni School of Dentistry has played a critical role in developing Pacific’s new accelerated master’s degree programs in clinical nutrition, nursing and social work that will begin in fall 2020. A doctorate in occupational therapy program will be offered the following year. These degree programs will join the University’s current popular programs in audiology, physical therapy, athletic training, physician assistant studies and speech-language pathology to form Pacific’s new School of Health Sciences headquartered on the University’s Sacramento campus. The dental and pharmacy programs will remain in their respective schools.

Students in the School of Health Sciences will benefit from interprofessional educational opportunities where they will work alongside and learn from their peers. This collaborative approach will prepare students for clinical settings where integrated teams provide patient care.

Pacific has trained healthcare professionals since 1858 when the University formed the first medical school in California, now the Stanford University School of Medicine. The University’s current portfolio of healthcare programs includes other premier and high-enrollment health schools and programs, such as the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry, which was founded in 1896 as the College of Physicians and Surgeons. The Department of Speech-Language Pathology dates back to 1936. Music therapy was introduced in 1938 and will remain in the Conservatory of Music. The Thomas J. Long School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences opened in 1955. The Department of Physical Therapy was established in 1985 and the doctor of audiology program was launched in 2015.

For more information about the new School of Health Sciences, visit

Old School | A.W. Ward Museum of Dentistry

Step into the Past

Prior to becoming the University of the Pacific, Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry, the College of Physicians and Surgeons (P&S) was located on 14th Street in the Mission District for 68 years. A new dental school display, located at the entrance to Dorfman Hall on the first floor, highlights the history of the P&S building on 14th Street thanks to the collaboration between the A.W. Ward Museum, Design and Photo, Administration and Building Operations.

The original, hand-painted glass sign from the entrance of the old P&S building on 14th Street now hangs and is backlit over a full-scale supergraphic of the vintage front door. An adjacent kiosk displays eight dental exhibits, among which are histories of the dental chair, the toothbrush and the high-speed handpiece. These exhibits include images of P&S-era dental artifacts donated to the school’s A.W. Ward Museum of Dentistry Collection.

Jack Morris: A Modern Renaissance Man

By Lauren E. Sanchez

Entering the dental school, you may notice the exquisite floral arrangements that consistently brighten up the lobby area of the Molinari Great Hall. Alternating seasonally with unique designs, the flowers leave an impact on everyone’s day. These arrangements are cutting edge, artistic and sometimes quite large, depending on the season. The floral installations are spearheaded by one dental hygienist in the Special Care Clinic, Jack Morris. With an extensive background in floral design, Morris uses his talents to create and display artwork for  the entire Dugoni School of Dentistry community to enjoy.

For Morris, designing these dynamic works is a constant challenge, creating an arrangement over a weekend that may only stay fresh for less than a week. Morris has grown accustomed to this obstacle as he previously owned two floral businesses: The Terrarium in San Francisco and Taylor-Morris Plants in Berkeley. His passion did not begin recently, but has been developing over time. Influenced by his parents and grandmother, who tended a large greenhouse garden in her backyard, Morris’ interest in plants began. His love for floral design blossomed after taking a class at a junior college. 

Coincidentally, his passion for floral design led him to his career at the dental school.  When Morris ran his own business, he didn’t have dental insurance and hadn’t gone to a dentist for nearly 10 years. Once Morris acquired insurance and got to know his dentist, he had the realization that he was called to do something quite different from running his floral and plant business. This prompted Morris to go back to school to study dental hygiene at Chabot College in Hayward. “I graduated from hygiene school and signed up with a ‘temp’ agency and they sent me to Pacific’s AEGD Clinic in San Francisco,” said Morris. “It was a good fit and I got hired.”

Rather than viewing something as simply a branch, Morris sees an interesting line that he can paint or turn into a useful element for his piece.

Morris currently works in the Special Care Clinic where he provides oral health care to patients with a range of medical and psychosocial considerations. “In the Special Care Clinic, Jack’s professional expertise, along with his robust enthusiasm for all of his special care patients, is evident daily,” says Christine Miller, director of community health programs. “His unique ability to establish a comforting rapport with each patient contributes greatly to our patient-centered care.”

Dr. Cindy Lyon ’86, associate dean for oral health education, adds, “His command of oral-systemic knowledge, necessary to caring for our patients with special needs, is enormous, and his generous spirit even bigger.”

After starting to work at the dental school in 1995, Morris knew his passion for floral art would not waver, so he began to bring in bouquets from his garden. The constant splash of colorful flowers was well-received by his co-workers so he continued this newfound tradition. With the updated creative space in the campus at 155 Fifth Street, Morris has met a new challenge. His designs are now seen from all sides and the pieces have grown larger and more extraordinary.
“It’s a different ball game; arrangements have to be fairly large in that space,” Morris noted. Without a true back side to the work, similar to a freestanding sculpture, Morris’ new goal is to craft artwork so it makes sense to the viewers from all angles. 

“Being multi-talented, Jack also excels as the Dugoni School’s florist!” says Miller. “His colorful weekly floral creations delight everyone at the entrance and main lobby.”

Gearing his pieces toward each season, Morris uses materials from his home garden to honor celebrations such as Halloween, his favorite holiday to create arrangements for, as well as Lunar New Year where his work creates “an aura of happiness and hope” that is associated with the festival. With annual holidays and seasons, it is difficult for Morris to continue generating artistic content for his displays. “If you leave an arrangement up for long enough, people stop looking at it,” Morris says. “You have to challenge yourself and challenge them to look at things with fresh eyes.”

Morris’ creative vision allows him to find supplies in unused objects. For example, he has incorporated branches that have been discarded from others’ gardens. Rather than viewing something as simply a branch, Morris sees an interesting line that he can paint or turn into a useful element for his piece. Although many of Morris’ materials come from his own garden, he often purchases fresh flowers from the San Francisco Flower Mart.

Morris continues to expand his knowledge in floral design. “For the past 12 years, I have studied at the Sogetsu School of Ikebana and I hold a teaching credential for Sogetsu Japanese floral art,” says Morris. “Currently, I am continuing my studies with the master Ikebana teacher and artist, Soho Sakai.” And before owning his own floral business, Morris earned a bachelor’s degree in German and classical languages at University of Arizona. He also received a master of divinity degree in theological studies from the Fuller Theological Seminary and took graduate classes in Greek and Latin at University of California, Berkeley.

“Jack thoroughly embodies the Dugoni School aspiration of  “Head, Heart, Hands,” says Lyon. “He is a truly thoughtful, skilled communicator—calm, optimistic, empathetic and motivating—a terrific role model in all ways.”

Next time entering the dental school, you may have a fresh perspective as you view the extraordinary floral designs of Jack Morris, a modern Renaissance man. The individual behind the work is kind-hearted and generous, and he allows people to experience his unique forms of expression with each design.

CDA | Leadership

By Louise Knott Ahern

Dr. Arthur A. Dugoni ’48, dean emeritus, can well remember a time when there were no women among the dental students at University of the Pacific, or in the profession at all.

Then there was one. And then 20.

And by the time he retired as dean of the Dugoni School of Dentistry, nearly half of all students were women. It was an evolution that changed not just the school, he said, but the entire profession for the better.

So, is he surprised to learn that four of the top leaders of the California Dental Association (CDA) are women who graduated from the Dugoni School of Dentistry? Absolutely not. In fact, he’d be surprised if they weren’t.

“I’ve been in this profession for 71 years,” said Dugoni. “Over the decades, it has been a privilege to see these alumnae who spend their entire careers looking at the opportunities to serve and to make a difference.”

He’s referring to Drs. Judee Tippett-Whyte ’86, Ariane Terlet ’86, Debra Finney ’86 and Natasha Lee ’00. All currently hold top leadership positions on the nine-member CDA Executive Committee.

Tippett-Whyte is currently vice president of the CDA and will assume the presidency of the organization in January 2021. Terlet will succeed her as president in January 2022 and currently serves as secretary. Finney, who served as CDA president in 2004, was elected as speaker of the house earlier this year. And, Lee recently finished her term as president and serves on the board as immediate past president.

That means that 44% of the CDA Executive Committee is made up of women who graduated from the Dugoni School of Dentistry, and 33% are from the Class of 1986.

“These four women caught fire when they were in dental school and decided then that they were going to assume leadership positions and make a difference,” Dugoni said. “And they have.”

The CDA Executive Committee has several responsibilities, including:

  • Conducting and supervising the business of the association when the board is not in session
  • Overseeing agenda preparation for board meetings
  • Ensuring relevance of the strategic plan
  • Developing annual goals and conducting an annual evaluation of the CDA executive director, with a report to the board
  • Developing annual goals and conducting an annual evaluation of the CDA editor, with a report to the board
  • Serving as ex-officio members on a number of other CDA councils, committees and boards
  • Carrying out any duties assigned by the board

CDA leaders are expected to devote, on average, up to 900 hours of time over the course of their year of service and must attend numerous committee and membership meetings.

All four leaders credit the lessons they learned at the Dugoni School—and from the man himself—for their commitment to serving their communities, their patients and their profession. “He was our dean when I was there,” said Tippett-Whyte, who practices in Stockton, California. “What more need I say? We have big shoes to fill.”

Here’s a look at the leaders who are shaping the organization and the profession.

Tippett-Whyte is no stranger to trailblazing leadership roles. She was  the Dugoni School of Dentistry’s first female valedictorian when she graduated in 1986.

And though she was already primed for leadership when she arrived at University of Pacific—she was a founding board member of her undergraduate sorority and had held other student leadership positions throughout her life—the lessons of service and advocacy found a willing pupil when she began her dental studies.

“After I graduated, within a couple of years I was on the board of directors of our local component,” said Tippett-Whyte, who has also served as president of the dental school’s Alumni Association. “That was the starting point. It grew from there.”

It hasn’t always been easy. One of her favorite stories is from 1995, when she was serving as a CDA delegate. Her youngest son was just six weeks old when she had to attend a delegates’ meeting, and she arranged for a nanny to watch the baby during the day at her hotel. Unfortunately, the night before she was to leave, the nanny came down with an illness and had to cancel.

“I was nursing him, so I had a choice,” she said. “Either I back down as a delegate, or he would have to come with me. Well, he came with me. He was on the floor with me. I think it showed that, wow, this is the changing face of dentistry. I think that was an impactful representation.”

Lee was a bit of an accidental dentist, as she puts it. Her dry cleaner knew a recently graduated dentist who was searching for a dental assistant, and after taking the job, she was hooked on the profession. Leadership was much less of an accident. It was an attempt to push herself and prove that she had what it takes to be a successful dentist.

“Two weeks into dental school, student body elections were held and I ran for CDA representative for my class,” she said. “To run for a position, you had to get up in front of the entire class and give a speech. I decided to challenge myself this way since one of my undergrad professors hesitated in writing me a letter of recommendation for dental school because she thought I might be too shy to be a dentist. I knew I needed to push myself beyond my comfort zone, and this proved a way to do it.”

The challenge worked. She was the youngest person to serve as CDA president and only the fourth woman to ever serve in the position.

“I’ve had many dental students and new graduates tell me that they think of me as a role model and that watching me serve as president of CDA has inspired them to want to become more involved in organized dentistry and professional issues that face dentistry. That makes it all worthwhile.”

It’s hard to believe now, but when Dr. Finney first expressed interest in becoming a dentist, her college counselor discouraged her from pursuing the path. “He said, ‘Well, you know, honey, women go into dental hygiene,’” recalled Finney.

She listened to him at first and became a dental hygienist, but 10 years later, she entered dental school and is now a practicing periodontist. The challenges continued as she sought leadership roles, having been told in the past that she was unqualified despite her experience.

But those challenges have only deepened her commitment to serve and to function as a role model for other women in the profession.

“It will be important for the future of dentistry that leaders continue to advocate for the best care for patients, Finney says. “That will include quality and affordable dental education, effective practice and reimbursement models and the perpetuation of high ethical standards. Technology will help reduce the time away from a practice to participate in organized dentistry which will hopefully make it more appealing.”

From the very beginning of her career, Dr. Ariane Terlet has been devoted to serving her community, not just her patients.

She has served on several boards and committees, including the Healthy Kids Healthy Teeth Advisory Board, Chabot College Dental Hygiene Advisory Board, First 5 Scientific Advisory Committee and the Dental Board of California. Terlet has also been past president of the Dugoni School of Dentistry Alumni Association and Berkeley Dental Society, in addition to her role as a CDA trustee and a member of the ADA Council on Government Affairs, representing California.

She also has been the chief dental officer at La Clínica since 1989, where she has helped expand dental services from one dental clinic to 11 sites in Alameda, Contra Costa and Solano counties. In her role as chief dental officer, she is responsible for the strategic vision, direction, oversight and management of dental operations and ensures the alignment with La Clínica’s mission.

“We had an incredible mentor in Dr. Dugoni and he led by example,” says Terlet. “I became involved in leadership and advocacy because the underserved population has not had a voice. I feel my role is to help educate decision-makers on the needs of the community and to advocate for those patients. And the way to accomplish that is to go into leadership.”

“As dentistry and oral health care evolve to be a stronger and more inclusive profession, I am excited to see great leaders, such as Drs. Tippet-Whyte, Lee, Finney and Terlet, model leadership for the current generation of graduates,” says Dean Nader A. Nadershahi ’94. “I can’t wait to see the future that will be built by the next generation of Dugoni School graduates.”

Louise Knott Ahern is an award-winning journalist, fiction writer, editor and writing coach, and is the founder of LKA Publishing.

Tools of the Trade

By Eric K. Curtis

All adventure stories require their protagonists to take a journey. Aspiring heroes must leave their homes and cross a threshold, pass through a portal, to get to the land of their dreams—the place where they achieve their true potential. The Pevensie children access Narnia by clambering into a wardrobe. Harry Potter boards the Hogwarts train by leaping through the wall at Platform 9 ¾. Milo arrives at the Kingdom of Wisdom by driving through a phantom tollbooth. The specifics vary, but the pattern abides: Dorothy follows a yellow brick road. Alice squirms through a rabbit hole. Neo swallows a red pill.

For students at the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry, the phantom tollbooth is called the student kit. The kit, of course, is that collection of equipment, supplies, instruments, books and materials issued each year for the purpose of shaping bewildered, imprecise civilians into dentists. The kit’s transformative aspect should not be underappreciated. Each class’s collection of stuff, from hand instruments to articulator parts to polishing tips, represents the tools of identity change.

Students access their armamentarium through a solemn ceremony, although few of them recognize it as such. The first stage, admittedly more memorable in the years before words got lodged in the cloud, involves the symbolic bestowal of knowledge, otherwise known as buying books. In July 1982, I presented myself at the Student Store, where staff members issued me a daunting stack of texts. Some, like Dr. Roy Eversole’s oral pathology tome, would become reliable companions over the next 37 years, while others, such as (cough) the removable prosthodontics volume, would never shed their cellophane wrap. The store lent me a wheeled dolly to push the paper up the hill to my apartment.

The second stage of the student kit ceremony is the figurative transfer of ability, otherwise known as unpacking supplies. I congregated with my yet-unknown classmates in the Webster Street third-floor, pre-clinical laboratory, in between rows of black-topped laboratory benches, where we liberated our piles of paraphernalia from their shrink-wrapped, zip-locked, clamshelled and/or envelope-sealed cocoons.

All heroes, especially those staring down a plethora of unknown objects, need a mentor, and in this preliminary rite of passage ours was former Executive Associate Dean and current Professor of Preventive and Restorative Dentistry Dr. Robert Christoffersen ’67.  “I always tried to reassure the new students,” Christoffersen says, “and attempted to provide the message that they will one day know what all the items will be used for in dentistry.”

The tone of that message impressed me as much as the substance. Understanding that I would become intimately acquainted with these bizarre accoutrements made their unfamiliarity all the more weird. But Christoffersen’s mellifluous voice sounded warm, amused and slightly meditative. His calm approach felt wise, and even omniscient, as if he were channeling, all at once, Gandalf, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Pat Sajak. My confusion at pawing through mysterious packages faded as I compiled my gear. (The process of identifying and cataloging things is itself therapeutic.) I went home that day with a curious sense of hope.

Some kit contents are evergreen. Today, students still get a Boley gauge and a flexible mixing bowl. They still learn dental anatomy at the tip of their Tanner carvers, although none of their wax-ups will turn to gold. But much of the kit I absorbed almost four decades ago has vanished. There are no glass slabs. No crucibles or casting rings. No rouge. No tiny vials of gold foil.

My kit’s organizing principle took the form of a bookstore-issued wooden box. It was something like a large tool chest or jewelry case, a traveling cabinet fitted with lockable drawers and compartments for instruments—chisels and hoes and excavators and condensers and curettes—and medicaments like copal varnish and squirmy, hard-to-hold objects, like my Bunsen burner with its brick-colored hose. Following the pattern of a generation or two of students before me, I carted my case from pre-clinical lab to clinic. The box was my rabbit hole, a tunnel from the clammy caves of Clinic C to the sunlight of dental practice. I still keep my box in my office, where people occasionally offer to buy it.

In the mid-1990s, the box disappeared from the student kit, rendered obsolete by two developments. One was the creation of efficient storage spaces incorporated into a computerized, clinically realistic pre-clinical simulation lab. The other involved sea changes in equipment, technology and priorities.

In 1982, I bought my own instruments, including an air-turbine handpiece—complete with spring-loaded hex wrench for tightening burs—and a geared slow-speed model with both nose cone and latch grip heads. I scratched my name onto the shanks of each with a revved-up 330 carbide bur. A name was a good thing on a pass-around lab spatula, but keeping track of an expensive high-speed drill was easier because I never sent rotary instruments in for sterilization. Hand pieces, in fact, could not be autoclaved until nearly a decade after I graduated. Instead, I carried—in my box—a glass jar of alcohol-soaked gauze pads to wipe off the blood and grit.

Infection control and sterilization protocols have long since come to dominate the center of gravity for appropriate care. Consequently, the school owns the equipment and supplies that students use in clinic, including handpieces, most of which are electric. “All instruments are sterilized, packaged in cassettes and bar-coded at our central sterilization area,” explains Dr. Sigmund H. Abelson ’66, former associate dean of clinical affairs and chair, Department of Clinical Oral Healthcare, “and then distributed to the clinic dispensaries, where students check them out as needed and return them when the procedures are completed.” The school charges an instrument use fee.

This year’s kit includes a bleaching system and a curing light, but much of the equipment available to students won’t fit in a box anyway, or comes in its own—things like CAD/CAM units for milling restorations, digital impression scanners, lasers, CBCT cone beam imagers and 3D printers that produce surgical implant-placement guides.

Neither do books necessarily go on a shelf. Students now read many texts online. Other disappearing acts include lab time and alloy restorations. Students perform fewer laboratory procedures, including denture set-ups, than did past generations. While they can still do amalgams, dramatic improvements in adhesive dentistry and strong patient preferences mean that students almost exclusively place composites.

While first-year students still get a robust kit, the contents of that kit, reflecting the school’s entire educational process, remain in perpetual motion—compared not just in a broad arc between, say, 1982 and 2019, but every single July. The kit is continually recalculated according to the innovations in science, advancing concepts in care and instantaneous communication that coalesce to push new elements and methods to the forefront. “This has become more exciting in recent years as dentistry has faced the rapid evolution of dental materials,” Dr. Christoffersen says. “When it comes to materials, much of what we teach today will most likely change in one year.”

For all its weight as a portal of personal change, then, the student kit also functions as a marker of dentistry’s evolution. Dental education is more comprehensive. Students now learn to screen for systemic diseases such as diabetes. They manage caries—which previous generations handled by finding dark or soft spots and passing out floss—through a complex assessment of each patient’s risk factors, including socioeconomic status; oral health history; oral environment dangers, from tooth shape, position and surface area to frequency of acid exposure; and the presence of protective elements, from the body’s own immune system (read: salivary flow) to chemical enhancements, such as topical and systemic fluoride, dietary xylitol, chlorhexidine and calcium and phosphate paste.

The Dugoni School of Dentistry prides itself on preparing its students for state-of-the-art dental practice, a position that represents not only an array of cutting-edge technologies but also a holistic mindset. “We instruct our students that we only provide comprehensive care to patients,” Abelson says. “That is, we do not provide ‘limited care,’ but rather treat the whole patient to make them healthy.”

Assembling a comprehensive-care kit involves a perennial cycle of research, consensus and selection. The Student Store, for which kits constitute 75% of annual sales, begins planning, following input from faculty and administration, about nine months ahead. An array of products must be identified, ordered, tracked and tabulated. In May and June, the store receives some 2,000 shipments of books (yes, there are still some physical books) and supplies and begins staging 620 individual items for packaging into—as of the 2019 count—314 kits for summer disbursement to first-year, second-year and International Dental Studies (IDS) students.

For all its weight as a portal of personal change, then, the student kit also functions as a marker of dentistry’s evolution.

“The nature of the student kits has changed, often due to University policy,” says David Swanson, procurement and inventory manager. “But, the need for our dental students to have doctoral kits will remain, and with it the obligation to manage the cost while still providing the necessary tools and materials that students require for their fast-paced and challenging education here at Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry.”

In the midst of relentless refinement, one remarkable aspect of the student kit has not budged—its cost. The world becomes ever more expensive, but the price of the Dugoni School of Dentistry’s student kit represents a well-managed constant. The Class of 2022’s first-year kit, including tax, comes to $11,624, essentially the same amount as the Class of 2006’s.

The kit’s fiscal stability streak stretches even longer. The 1963 kit sold for $1,372, which, according to an online U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index inflation calculator, had the purchasing power of $11,485 in 2019. I bought my 1982 kit for around $5,000, equivalent to $13,000 today. The real price of the Dugoni School of Dentistry’s student kit, in other words, has remained remarkably stable across six decades.

The kit’s cost is easy to measure. Its value, however, remains inestimable.


Thanks to David Swanson, procurement and inventory manager, and Sandra Shuhert, Design and Photo Services, for their contributions to this article.

Eric K. Curtis ’85 practices general dentistry and teaches college English in Safford, Arizona.

Beyond Great Clinicians

The Personalized Instruction Program allows students to build upon their passions

by Kirsten Mickelwait

In June 2018, Dr. Olivia Moran ’19 found herself in Cebu City in the Philippines, performing dental exams and treating people of all ages in the open-air gym of a rural elementary school. With 10 plastic recliner chairs and two Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry students working per chair, Moran and her classmates treated nearly 400 patients in five days, performing multiple extractions and restorations on each patient under faculty supervision.

Such real-world experience is exactly the point behind the Personalized Instruction Program (PIP), a required element of the school’s Helix Curriculum that provides students with in-depth learning opportunities in areas of their personal interest related to oral health care. Students design their own PIP project under the guidance of an expert mentor. There are currently more than 60 mentors, both faculty and alumni, who have supported and supervised students in this way. These projects have included the development of educational tools and manuals, creating international and local outreach programs, research projects, publications, peer teaching, videos and many others.

“The PIP project is limited only by a student’s imagination and effort,” says Dr. Terry E. Hoover, PIP faculty director and associate professor and vice chair of the Department of Diagnostic Sciences. “PIPs are credited on students’ transcripts with a notation of the project title and units earned based on time spent, along with the name of their mentor.”

Both students and mentors laud the program as an excellent experiential learning opportunity that fosters creativity, critical thinking and self-assessment skills. It also opens both eyes and doors to professional paths beyond the traditional dental office. Here are a few PIPs launched by recent graduates.

The Philippines Dental Outreach Mission Trip

Moran was born and raised in the Philippines and also lived in Sri Lanka and Singapore before attending a university in Canada and coming to the United States for dental school. When she heard about PIP and the opportunity to do an outreach trip, she immediately knew that she wanted to design one to benefit her native country, where her family still lives.

After receiving administrative approval, she recruited fellow classmates, Victoria Louie and Jackson Partin, to help her organize the trip. A year of planning went into the experience, including travel logistics, student recruitment, fundraisers and faculty participation. Moran contacted the Rise Above Foundation Cebu (RAFC), which works to improve the quality of life for poor populations with educational opportunities, livelihood training and health and hygiene programs.

Twenty students from the DDS Class of 2019 were recruited and four faculty members signed on. The leaders raised approximately $17,000 to pay for dental supplies and other necessities, and RAFC coordinated everything in the Philippines to set up the dental clinic in a rural elementary school in Cebu City. The Dugoni School contingent arrived in June 2018 and worked for five straight days attending to all those patients.

“None of them had seen a dentist before,” Moran recalls. “We restored as many teeth as we could, but many others had to be extracted. Everyone was really grateful to be seen, and the kids were so obedient and respectful. It’s all part of the Filipino culture.”

Moran is grateful to all the students and faculty members who chose to spend their summer vacation doing service work in the Philippines. It was meaningful to share her culture with other members of her class while giving back to her home country. She created a manual and made sure that three students in the group were from a later class year so that they can plan the trip and train others in the future. “I really hope that we can make a lasting impact on the standards of oral health in the Philippines,” she says.

Assistant Dean of Global Relations Eve Cuny served as the lead faculty member during PIP’s transition from an elective program to a required element of the curriculum. “I’ve seen the real value that students have derived from the opportunity to explore an area of interest within health care not covered elsewhere in the curriculum,” she says. “This may be a deeper exploration of something that has sparked an interest for the student during their education, or it may be delving into an area of interest that will carry throughout their career as a healthcare professional. The ability to identify and work closely with a mentor who can help guide the student through the process and share his or her valuable insight, knowledge and expertise offers a personalized element not found in a larger classroom setting.”

Pre-Dental Boot Camp

In 2018, when classmates Michelle Fat, Allen Abrishami and Arshia Ashjaei (now all graduates of the Class of 2019) realized that Northern California did not have comprehensive, pre-dental educational opportunities, they decided to establish the Dugoni School Pre-Dental Boot Camp (PDB). Together, they developed a course held on 10 consecutive Saturdays, which has attracted 54 pre-dental students annually for the past two years.

Offered during winter and spring quarters, the rigorous course features 10 mandatory, three-hour didactic lectures as well as hands-on learning at the Dugoni School of Dentistry facilities—lecture halls, simulation lab and clinics. Upon completion of the boot camp, participating students receive a certificate of completion from Dean Nader A. Nadershahi ’94. Some students flew in each weekend from as far as Nevada, Arizona and Washington. With their acquired knowledge and skills, “pre-dents” can start the application cycle by demonstrating that they’ve already begun investing in their dental careers.

“Our goal was to give aspiring students more exposure to the Dugoni School of Dentistry and to enable them to feel like real dental students for 10 weeks,” explains Ashjaei. “All our lectures were created and presented by Dugoni School students, which required them to have a deep understanding of their subjects. It gave them practice presenting to audiences of different backgrounds. Every day that we worked as a team, we were more motivated to represent our dental school in the best possible way.”

Fat considers PDB to be one of the most fulfilling experiences she had during dental school. “It allowed me to create something that I would have wanted when I was a pre-dental student,” she says. “It enabled me to express my creativity outside the classroom and it helped me build strong relationships within the school.”

As with the Philippines Dental Outreach Mission Trip, PDB included underclass students so that the program can continue to be offered in the years ahead.

“There is no end to education,” wrote Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti. “It is not that you read a book, pass an examination and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning.”

Fat agrees. “I don’t know if there’s another place like the Dugoni School,” she says. “Creating the Pre-Dental Boot Camp was a prime example of how the school supports its students in ways beyond developing great clinicians. Allowing us to turn ideas into a reality shows the well-rounded and humanistic values on which the Dugoni School of Dentistry prides itself.

Business and Leadership Symposium

The inspiration for the Business and Leadership Symposium “was to help students figure out what makes them tick and how they can apply their strengths to serve as leaders in the dental field after they graduate,” says Dr. Jasmine Flake ’19, who organized the event with Dr. Zoe Fernyhough ’19. “It was intended to be a fun and engaging workshop to let students learn not only about what opportunities are already out there but how to foster their leadership skills and create their own opportunities.”

Held in April 2018, the all-day event featured a keynote speech—“Focus on the Opportunities, Not the Obstacles”—by Dr. Nick Morton ’08, an endodontist and co-founder of Tipsy Elves. Students attended several interactive break-out sessions on practical leadership. Finally, all participants reconvened for a panel of speakers—Dr. Chrystle Cu ’08, co-founder of Cocofloss and a practicing dentist at the Young Dental Group; Dr. Clint Taura ’13, a San Francisco dentist and former adjunct instructor at the Dugoni School; Dr. Lindzy Goodman, a dentist at Dentists on Demand; and Elisabeth Wong, head of client success at Dentists on Demand—discussing “People Changing the Landscape of Dentistry.”

In organizing the symposium, Flake and Fernyhough attracted six sponsors—Procter and Gamble, Straumann, Cocofloss, First Republic, California Dental Association and The Dentists Insurance Company (TDIC)—and  an attendance of 110 dental students. About 20 volunteers organized goody bags, set up the facilities, served as speakers and room hosts and even cleaned up after the event.

“The symposium was designed to inspire leaders but, in organizing it, I also developed invaluable leadership and organizational skills for large-scale events,” Flake explains. “Through our PIP projects, we’re able to give back to the school, the community and the field of dentistry in our own individual ways.”

Kirsten Mickelwait is a copywriter, content provider and professional storyteller based in San Francisco.

Innovation and Leadership on the Move

Back in 2014, we made a bold move with the launch of our new campus in San Francisco. Years of planning and hard work resulted in a state-of-the-art home that now serves as a flexible, innovative space to support our people and programs. We were so happy to showcase our campus at the “5 on Fifth” anniversary reception held in early September during the ADA/FDI World Dental Congress, which took place just steps away from us at the Moscone Center. If you haven’t been back in a while, please feel free to stop by for a visit the next time you’re in town so we can show you some of the great things taking place at the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry.

Innovation and leadership are two of the most significant qualities of the Dugoni School of Dentistry. We hold these qualities up high as part of our six school values—or commitments—identified in our strategic plan, Transforming the Future of Oral Health Education. But more than just words in a plan, they also come to life every day.

This issue of Contact Point touches on both of these values. We explore innovative advances in our curriculum through the launch of our new Personalized Instruction Program (a new required element of our Helix Curriculum) and leadership by our students and alumni who are making a difference in our school, our communities and organized dentistry alike. We also take a look at a milestone moment in the lives of dental students—the distribution of the student kit—and how the elements of that kit have changed to reflect our changing profession.

From our earliest days, our school has been a place that encourages innovation and leadership. These are two powerful values, and when they are combined great things happen. We look forward to supporting our students as they pursue their dreams, launch their careers and become innovators and leaders in their own unique way.


Nader A. Nadershahi ’94, DDS, MBA, EdD



This past November, when smoke-filled air poured into the San Francisco Bay Area from the Camp Fire in Butte County, California, our school was forced to cancel clinic sessions and close our operations for two days due to the toxic air quality. Our disruption at the school, while inconvenient, was nothing compared to what was occurring in the fire-ravaged areas, where homes and offices were destroyed, lives were forever changed and entire towns were burned off the map, including the community of Paradise.

This issue of Contact Point examines the impact of the California fires on local communities through the eyes of dental professionals who survived the disasters. Our hearts go out to all who were impacted. As devastating as the conflagrations have been, these communities are showing their resilience as they take steps towards their “new normal” in the face of tragedy.

We also take a look at the changing face of dentistry in this issue. These changes are reflected in our student body. For example, our newest DDS class includes more female students than male. And our students have a growing interest in diversity and inclusion activities, as demonstrated by some of the many initiatives and events hosted by student organizations on campus.

Creativity is also on display in this issue. When they are not practicing dentistry, some of our alumni, residents and students have used their artistic talents to illustrate and/or author books for children and young adults.

We hope your spring is off to a positive start and that whatever ups and downs you may experience, your year is filled with growth and resilience.



Nader A. Nadershahi ’94, DDS, MBA, EdD