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Recruiting African Americans into dentistry: Case clinical instructor Potts-Williams leads efforts for Forest City Dental Society

Few people may think of their dentist as a hero. Case Western Reserve University’s Jefferson Jones, chair of the department of endodontics at the Case School of Dental Medicine, received that status in Hometown Heroes at HealthSpace Cleveland—a companion piece to the current showing of The Future is Now! African Americans in Dentistry exhibit. Jefferson is among five local dentists honored.

Jones has contributed approximately 40 years of service to the Cleveland community and Case. He has estimated that he saved more than 50,000 teeth through procedures like root canals to combat oral infections in teeth. He also has recruited eight African-American faculty members to the Case dental school. Case ranks third in the country for African-American dental faculty members—and just after two African-American universities.

The Future is Now! is a traveling exhibit from The National Museum of Dentistry, in association with the Smithsonian Institute and the National Dental Association, that provides viewers with a comprehensive look at the rich heritage of African Americans in the dental profession, according to Madge Potts-Williams (Case, D.D.S., ’81), a clinical instructor at the Case dental school.

Potts-Williams is the president of the Forest City Dental Society, a professional organization for minorities in dentistry, and is working closely with HealthSpace to raise awareness of the dental profession as a career option for Cleveland’s urban children, as well as an awareness of the importance of oral health care.

The importance of such an exhibit, stressed Potts-Williams, is that it sends a message about good oral health care to the African-American community where 50 percent of children’s cavities go untreated and unseen by a dentist.

“We are trying to correct this health disparity,” stated Potts-Williams.

The Forest City Dental Society plans to work with HealthSpace to create a permanent exhibit of contributions African Americans, like Jones, have made to the profession and is raising money to fund such an exhibit.

Also featured as “hometown heroes” are Roderick H. Adams Sr., one of the senior members of the Forest City Dental Society; Eugene Jordan, East Cleveland dentist; Joy Jordan, daughter of Eugene Jordan, East Cleveland dentist and past president of the National Dental Association; and Mitchell Nathaniel Toney, Cleveland’s first African-American orthodontist. Jones is Cleveland’s first African-American endodontist, a dentist who performs root canals and other procedures to eliminate infections in the teeth, and only one of three in the city.

“We want children to see these dentists as role models and dare to dream of being a dental professional,” said Potts-Williams.

When Potts-Williams retires, she envisions handing the keys to her private practice over to a young African-American professional.

If today’s conditions continue, she said she may not have that opportunity. She pointed out that only 5 percent of dental students in the country are African American, and yet African American’s comprise 12 percent of the country’s population.

As president of the Forest City Dental Society, Potts-Williams wants to close the gap and isn’t leaving it to chance.

Members of the Forest City Dental Society have instituted a number of programs to attract African Americans into the dental profession. The society offers scholarships to support tuition and mentors undergraduates with an interest in dentistry and students enrolled in the dental schools. Forest City members also volunteer to provide free dental exams at local health fairs and with the Case dental school’s Healthy Smiles, sealant program in the Cleveland Municipal School District, as an informal way to raise awareness of African Americans in dentistry. They regularly are guest speakers during career days at local schools.

“Our goal is to double the number of African Americans in dental schools,” said Potts-Williams.

The Future is Now! and Hometown Heroes run through May 1 at HealthSpace, East 89th Street and Euclid Avenue. Hours are Wednesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sunday noon to 4:30 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for students and seniors, $3 for children three and four and free for children under two. For information call 216-231-5010.


About Case Western Reserve University

Case is among the nation's leading research institutions. Founded in 1826 and shaped by the unique merger of the Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve University, Case is distinguished by its strengths in education, research, service, and experiential learning. Located in Cleveland, Case offers nationally recognized programs in the Arts and Sciences, Dental Medicine, Engineering, Law, Management, Medicine, Nursing, and Social Work.