1930-1939: The Specialty Takes Shape and Certification Emerges

History of the Board


Although the decade of the 30's is remembered primarily for the Great Depression, when family incomes dropped by 40 percent and dreams for the future seemed to vanish, it was also a time when structures were put in place for a more solid future, including the Social Security Act of 1935. The 1930s was also a decade of achievement: Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, Jesse Owens won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, and many of America’s most memorable buildings were erected, including Rockefeller Center and “Falling Water,” Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece. In the background, the music of Duke Ellington reminded Americans, “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).

During the 1930s, while the government created a wave of programs to address the impact of the Depression, periodontology also assumed a more structured form. In the early years of the 20th century, there was only one recognized dental specialty, Orthodontia, although the specialty of periodontology can be said to have had its genesis in the organization of the America Academy of Periodontology in 1914. Later, in 1922, the American Dental Association (known as the National Dental Association at the time) moved to establish a Periodontia section and members of the National Dental Association approached the American Academy of Periodontology with the request that the Academy merge into a section of the larger organization. The Academy declined and a Section of Periodontia was established within the American Dental Association.

In the years that followed, there was growing awareness that some mechanism had to be developed to ascertain the qualifications of practitioners claiming to specialize in periodontology, and other branches of dentistry as well.

In 1931, the National Association of Dental Examiners initiated a study of dental specialization and specialist certification, and beginning in 1935 the American College of Dentists also had a committee studying the subject. An article appearing in a 1970 issue of the Journal of Periodontology noted that during this period “Six branches of dentistry needed specialty certifying boards at that time, namely, Periodontology, Oral Surgery, Pedodontics, Prosthodontics, Public Health Dentistry, and Orthodontics....” By 1937 the State of Illinois passed a law defining five dental specialties: Exodontia, Orthodontia, Prosthodontia, Periodontia, and Pediadontia and established criteria for examining and licensing dental specialists. Tennessee, Oklahoma and Arizona all had laws applying to specialists in orthodontia.

Despite actions by the states, questions still arose, however, as to whether the public was being adequately protected. Dr. W.F. Bell, chairman of the Committee on Dental Specialists of the National Association of Dental Examiners and a member of the AAP, raised the issue in San Francisco in 1937. As a result a the Committee on Dental Specialists of the National Association of Dental Examiners, under the chairmanship of Dr. Bell, sent a questionnaire regarding the specialist’s role to the deans of the nation’s dental colleges, state boards of dental examiners, and approximately 30 general practitioners and specialists. Two major issues emerged from the resulting responses: (1) the present system of specialization was inadequate to protect the public and (2) better training and certification were necessary.

Dr. BellDr. Edward B. Spalding turned to the AAP to help “work out the problem of the specialist in periodontia.” and Dr. Edward B. Spalding, in his 1937 presidential address to The Academy, urged that a special committee of five members be appointed to work on the issue of specialization and certification as it applied to periodontia. Concluded Spalding, “...the certification of specialists is an important problem which the Academy should aid in solving as it pertains to periodontia....”

The Academy of Periodontology responded by sending a request to “...all national organizations dealing with dental education or certification to send delegates to a meeting to be held in St. Louis on October 24th (1938) to organize an Advisory Board for Dental Specialties.”

At the St. Louis meeting, which was actually held October 23rd, Dr. Harold J. Leonard of the Specialization Committee of the Academy was elected permanent chairman. Dr. John Oppie McCall was the other delegate from the Academy. Delegates to the St. Louis meeting approved the idea of an advisory board for dental specialties and appointed a committee to draft a constitution and by-laws.

In July 1939, an organizing meeting for the advisory board was held at the Schroeder Hotel in Milwaukee and the formation of the Advisory Board for Dental Specialties was approved and a constitution and by-laws—based on those of the Board for Medical Specialties, was also approved.

At the same time, in the Wisconsin Hotel on July14, Dr. Spalding’s recommendation two years earlier regarding certification of periodontists bore fruit and the American Academy of Periodontology formally organized the American Board of Periodontology. The Board’s purpose was threefold: (1) to set up qualification standards for those wishing to be “recognized as competent periodontists,” (2) perform examinations of those who qualify and wish to be certified and (3) publish a roster of certified periodontists. In addition, the Board hoped to stimulate the teaching of periodontology.

The first members of the Board were: Drs. Dickson G. Bell of San Francisco; M. Monte Bettman of Portland, Oregon; A.W. Bryan of Iowa City, Iowa; Austin F. James of Chicago, Illinois; Olin Kirkland of Montgomery, Alabama; Harold J. Leonard of New York, New York; and Arthur H. Merritt of New York, New York.

One year later, in 1940, the American Board of Periodontology was incorporated in the State of Illinois.

The American Board of Periodontology -Certificate

  1. The Journal of Periodontology. “Early Years of the American Board of Periodontology and the Advisory Board for Dental Specialties,” by Harold J. Leonard, DDS. Vol. 41, 1970, p.179. 
  2. The Journal of Periodontology. “Certification of Periodontists.” A presidential address by Edward B. Spalding, read before the AAP, July 8, 1937, Atlantic City, NJ. Vol. 9, 1938, p. 53. 
  3. Ibid. P. 53. 
  4. The Journal of Periodontology. “A Board of Periodontology.” Vol. 9, 1938, p. 50. 
  5. The Journal of Periodontology. “The American Board of Periodontology.” Vol. 10, 1939, p. 90.
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