Esther M. Wilkins, BS, RDH, DMD—the matriarch of dental hygiene—dedicated her professional life to the prevention of oral disease and the advancement of the dental hygiene profession. She passed away December 12, 2016, three days after her 100th birthday, but her legacy lives on through her textbook, her passion for dental hygiene, and the mentoring she provided to both friends and colleagues.
After earning both her Doctor of Dental Medicine degree and a post-doctoral certificate in periodontology, Dr. Wilkins set out to ensure that dental hygiene was regarded as a professional career with high standards. She touched several generations of dental hygiene students with her seminal textbook, Clinical Practice of the Dental Hygienist, now in its 13th edition.
Dr. Wilkins began teaching at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine in Boston in 1964, where she taught instrumentation workshops to dental students. She was also a prolific provider of continuing education for dental hygienists, presenting more than 1,000 programs worldwide throughout her expansive career.
In 2004, Dr. Wilkins’ alma mater, the Forsyth School of Dental Hygiene, now part of the MCPHS University in Boston, opened a state-of-the-art dental hygiene clinic in her name—the Esther M. Wilkins Forsyth Dental Hygiene Clinic. In 2012, she was honored with the American Dental Education Association’s William J. Gies Award for Achievement, Dental Educator.
Dr. Wilkins’ dedication to dental hygiene education and commitment to improving oral health provide a lasting legacy, and her inspiration to the profession is clearly illustrated by the dental hygienists who continue to follow in her footsteps.
Jane L. Forrest, BSDH, MS, EdD
While initially steered toward dental hygiene by a local dentist and a dentist uncle who thought the profession was well-suited for women, Jane L. Forrest, BSDH, MS, EdD, has pushed the boundaries of what dental hygiene has to offer to both patients and clinicians. After spending a short time in private practice, Dr. Forrest realized she wanted more from her career and enrolled in the Master of Dental Public Health Program at Boston University. It was in this environment that she realized the need to improve access to care in the United States, as well as innovative ideas on how to finance it. The importance of quality assurance in the provision of dental hygiene care became a passion and inspired her to embark on a career focused on research and evidence-based decision making (EBDM).
A professor emerita of clinical dentistry and former section chair of behavioral science at the Ostrow School of Dentistry of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, Dr. Forrest is also the co-founder and director of the National Center for Dental Hygiene Research & Practice (NCDHRP). She has received several federal training grants, one of which included developing the NCDHRP and another on integrating EBDM into curricula. An internationally recognized author and presenter on EBDM, Dr. Forrest is also the lead co-author of two textbooks: Evidence-Based Decision Making: Developing Competence in EB Practice and its companion, The Faculty Toolkit.
A grant reviewer for the National Institutes of Health-National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, Health Resources and Services Administration, and American Dental Hygienists’ Association, she also has served as a reviewer and task force liaison member for the Cochrane Oral Health Group and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Forrest’s impact on the profession is long-lasting as the inclusion of EBDM into dental hygiene education has significantly changed the practice of the profession. Clinicians are charged with staying up-to-date on oral health research and literature, incorporating these discoveries into evidence-based treatment plans for their patients. Through the NCDHRP’s four global dental hygiene research conferences, dental hygienists from around the world have been able to share their research outcomes, provide hands-on training in different areas of research, and offer networking opportunities for novice and future dental hygiene researchers.
“Jane is probably best known for directing the National Center for Dental Hygiene Research & Practice, leading a platform for research training and dissemination for the profession. But among Jane’s many achievements, I believe her most lasting legacy will reflect her dedication to evidence-based decision-making. Through her textbooks and publications, Jane has helped to shape the new generation of dental hygienists who have adopted an evidence-based philosophy of practice. This shift will undoubtedly make a positive impact on the quality of care provided to patients by these clinicians”
—Ann Eshenaur Spolarich, RDH, PhD, FSCDH
Professor and Assistant Dean for Research
Arizona School of Dentistry & Oral Health
The Esther Wilkins Lifetime Achievement Award Recognizing the Best in Dental Hygiene
Named after the late inspirational dental hygiene leader and inaugural recipient Esther M. Wilkins, BS, RDH, DMD, The Esther Wilkins Lifetime Achievement Award—sponsored by Colgate Oral Pharmaceuticals, Inc.—is presented annually to recognize the distinguished career of a worthy individual who has consistently and effectively contributed to the enrichment of the dental hygiene profession. Previous recipients are: Esther M. Wilkins, BS, RDH, DMD, in 2010; Maxine Alper Tishk, RDH, MS, in 2011; Gail N. Cross-Poline, RDH, MS, in 2012; Michele Leonardi Darby, BSDH, MS, and Margaret Walsh, RDH, MS, MA, EdD, in 2013; Juanita S. Wallace, RDH, PhD, in 2014; JoAnn R. Gurenlian, RDH, MS, PhD, AFAAOM, in 2015; Pamela R. Overman, RDH, MS, EdD, in 2016; Olga A.C. Ibsen, RDH, MS, FAADH, in 2017; Deborah Bailey Astroth, RDH, BSDH, in 2018; and Jacquelyn L. Fried, RDH, BA, MS, in 2019. Dimensions of Dental Hygiene, together with premier sponsor Colgate Oral Pharmaceuticals, Inc., is pleased to honor Jane L. Forrest, BSDH, MS, EdD, as the 2020/2021 recipient of The Esther Wilkins Lifetime Achievement Award. This award is presented in recognition of Dr. Forrest’s long-lasting achievements in research and evidence-based decision making.
From Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. June 2021;19(6):24-25.