The Program in Dental Public Health was one of the original six founding programs for what was then the new U-Michigan School of Public Health (UMSPH) in 1941, and was the world's first such program for public health training of dentists. The first program director was Dr. Ken Easlick, a specialist in pediatric dentistry and a dynamic individual. The impetus for the Program's establishment was the first federal funding for Maternal and Child Health (MCH) programs in the mid-1930s, part of the depression-era federal initiatives that followed the first Social Security Act (1935). MCH opened the door for public health dental programs, because at that time (as now) dental care headed the list of health care needs among deprived children.
Since public health was a new venture for dentistry, and state and local health departments were trying to set up dental departments with no models to follow, Dr. Easlick set about defining the field through a series of landmark workshops in Ann Arbor through the 1940s and 1950s. The results defined the scope of dental public health practice and the necessary competencies for public health dentists. This work was seminal in many ways, and it led to the American Dental Association's recognition of Dental Public Health as a board-certified specialty of dentistry in 1950, the establishment of a dental public health unit in virtually every state health department, and to the establishment of the Oral Health Unit in the World Health Organization in 1953. These workshops also were the basis for the graduate curriculum at UMSPH and elsewhere.
The Program at UMSPH remained the only one of its kind for a number of years. During the 1950–73 period, a time when there was high demand for public health dentists, there were US Public Health Service traineeships available for dentists to obtain their MPH degree and then receive residency training. This combined academic and practical experience provided the necessary education to permit them to take their specialty certifying examinations. During this period, intake of students at UMSPH was steady at 15-16 per year, nearly all domestic students. Graduates went on to primarily administrative careers in federal, state, or local health departments, with some going into academia. Enrollment dropped only a little when the traineeships ended, and an influx of dental hygienists and a few dentists from overseas helped to keep enrollment of new students around the 10-12/year level through the late 1970s.
Dr. David Striffler followed Dr. Easlick as Program director from 1962 to 1983, when Dr. Brian Burt took over. He was succeeded by Dr. Amid Ismail in 2004. Over the years, the Program has been located in a number of now-forgotten departments (e.g., Health Development, Community Health Services) as SPH structure altered. In the 1974 reorganization engineered by incoming dean Richard Remington, it was lodged in the then-new department of Community Health Programs. In the 1995 reorganization of SPH, when the previous eight departments were reduced to five, programs were encouraged to choose their departmental homes through negotiation. The Program in Dental Public Health chose Epidemiology as the most appropriate department, and the chair and faculty of Epidemiology made the Program faculty very welcome. The Program in Dental Public Health began as a track in Epidemiology in September 1995, and has been an integral part of the Epidemiology department since then.