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‘Extraordinarily gifted’ Dr. Patricia Blanton recipient of Distinguished Service Award

May 26, 2017

By David Burger

Dr. Patricia Blanton
Dr. Patricia L. Blanton
Charleston, S.C.
— Dr. Patricia L. Blanton said being a woman in dentistry has seldom exposed her to prejudice or biases.

Rather, she has seen what she called “the pervasive bigotry of low expectations,” and encourages all her students to do the best they can and surpass those expectations.

Surpassing expectations has defined Dr. Blanton’s life, and for that the ADA Board of Trustees will bestow upon her the ADA Distinguished Service Award at ADA 2017 – America’s Dental Meeting this October for Dr. Blanton’s lifelong devotion to advancing the art and science of dentistry.

“I was proud to nominate Dr. Blanton for the 2017 ADA Distinguished Service Award,” said Dr. Gary L. Roberts, ADA president. “Her distinguished career in dentistry, which has included service as vice president of the ADA and as the first female president of the Texas Dental Association, is something to which we can all aspire. With a half-century of service in the classroom and now as interim dean of the James B. Edwards College of Dental Medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina, she continues to be a role model for the next generation of dentists. I look forward to presenting her with the award at this year’s annual meeting in Atlanta.”

Dr. Blanton also served as president of the American College of Dentists Foundation; Dallas County Dental Society; Texas Society of Periodontists; and Southwest Society of Periodontists.

Dr. Blanton is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the William John Gies Award of the American College of Dentists; Gold Medal for Distinguished Service from the Texas Dental Association; Lifetime Achievement Award of the Dallas County Dental Society; and Baylor College of Dentistry Hall of Fame.

She has also been recognized as a Distinguished Alumnus of the Baylor College of Dentistry and Distinguished Alumna of Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas.

Her impressive list of accomplishments did not prepare her emotionally for receiving the highest honor conferred by the ADA Board of Trustees. When Dr. Blanton received the phone call notifying her, she said she went into “absolute shock followed by disbelief.” she recalled. “Ultimately I was profoundly grateful.”

Distinguished life

After receiving her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Hardin-Simmons University, Dr. Blanton earned a master’s degree and doctorate in anatomy at Baylor. She received her dental degree from the Baylor College of Dentistry seven years after she earned her anatomy doctorate and earned her periodontics certificate at Baylor and the Veterans Administration Hospital in Dallas.

Dr. Blanton became a teaching assistant in 1960, first at Hardin-Simmons then at Baylor. Teaching was always important to her, she said, because she enjoys the opportunity to engage with students on “their journey to a goal of lifelong learning.”

The study of anatomy attracted Dr. Blanton because “I see human anatomy as the foundational tenet as well as the biological basis for all things scientific.  Anatomy combines art and science in a way that no other traditional discipline can — it lends to translation as well as transformation.  Two things that define my philosophy as an educator are the translational deployment of the basic sciences and the transformation of the learner.”

Upon receiving her doctorate in anatomy, she was assigned to be an assistant professor in the Baylor College of Dentistry. It was there where she saw dental students exploring the head region, which she calls “the most complex part of the body.” Being introduced to dentistry and encouraged by colleagues and deans, she decided to go to dental school at Baylor.

After graduation from dental school, Dr. Blanton was a professor at Baylor from 1976 to the present, and she is a professor emeritus at the Texas A&M College of Dentistry (the new name for the Baylor College of Dentistry). In 1985, she started her practice in periodontics, continuing to teach at Baylor and lecturing around the world.

In 2014, the opportunity to sell her practice presented itself, Dr. Blanton said, and she “reluctantly departed with her beloved patients and staff of nearly 30 years.” But she still wanted to be involved in dentistry, so, although she considers herself to be a “Texan through and through,” she moved to South Carolina to join a practice of some friends she had in the Charleston area. With her reputation preceding her, she quickly was asked to be a professor in the department of stomatology at the Medical University of South Carolina.

In 2016, in the wake of the retirement of the dean of the James B. Edwards College of Dental Medicine, she was asked to be interim dean.

“With transitions in leadership and an upcoming accreditation, the sense of uncertainty felt like a Category 4 hurricane,” said Dr. Amy Martin, “But Dr. Blanton calmed the waters.” Dr. Martin, director of population oral health in the department of stomatology at the college, continued: “She is a fantastic leader. She’s one of the finest people I’ve worked for.” Dr. Martin added, “She wears leadership with such grace and humility. I’m 45, and I can’t keep up with her. There is nothing interim about her.”

"Dr. Patricia Blanton has demonstrated outstanding leadership as interim dean of the College of Dental Medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina during this last year,” said Lisa K. Saladin, Ph.D., provost and vice president, academic affairs. "She stepped in at a time of substantial transition and has lead the way with grace and decisiveness. She developed excellent relationships with both internal and external stakeholders and made critical decisions to enhance our national reputation. Her contributions and leadership during this last year have been truly appreciated.”

Dr. Tariq Javed, vice dean at the dental school, said Dr. Blanton has a unique style of leadership in which she has an ability to quickly put people at ease. “She leads by example,” he said. “She never leaves the circle of decency.” He added, “Due to her expertise in surgical anatomy and applied anatomy, she has been a sought-out speaker at the national and international levels.”

Respect of colleagues

Dr. John S. Findley, ADA president from 2008-09, said, "I have known Dr. Blanton for many years and in many facets of the profession — through the eyes of a first-year dental student in her gross anatomy lab; I have seen her as a skilled and dedicated leader in the Dallas County Dental Society, the Texas Dental Association and the ADA; as a talented, caring and compassionate practitioner; and finally, as a true and loyal friend. In all her endeavors she has always exhibited qualities that endear her to fellow practitioners and others with whom she has worked: a questioning mind, willing attitude, dedicated and committed work ethic and always a spirit of respect and concern for all involved. There is no better example of distinguished service to the profession than Patricia Blanton.”

Dr. Stephen A. Ralls, executive director of the American College of Dentists, praised the selection of Dr. Blanton for the award. “She is extraordinarily gifted,” he said. “She is a charismatic leader who inspires others to achieve. She leads from the front and by example. Dr. Blanton is highly skilled at creating a vision and using that vision to effectively focus efforts on consistently producing exceptional outcomes. Those leadership qualities were routinely showcased to the Board of Regents of the American College of Dentists, particularly during her tenure as president from 2011 to 2012. She seeks the best for dentistry, always striving to elevate its standards. Additionally, Dr. Blanton has been a truly exceptional role model for others over the course of her career. She has positively impacted many lives. Dr. Blanton upholds the highest ethical principles and is greatly esteemed by her peers and colleagues. She has also generously given back to her community and profession. Dr. Blanton is most worthy and deserving of the ADA Distinguished Service Award.”

Dr. Jerry Miller, past president of the American College of Dentists and a retired pediatric dentist, first encountered Dr. Blanton when she was a teaching assistant in his anatomy class in 1962 at Baylor. “She’s such a kind individual,” he said. “She’s an ideal speaker around the world on implants because of her doctorate in anatomy. She is highly, highly respected and she’s won every honor that’s out there. Just a delightful friend.”

Dr. Jerry Long, of the Professional Resource Center at the University of Texas School of Dentistry in Houston, commended his fellow Texan. "Dr. Blanton's commitment to dentistry spans academia, private practice, the specialty of periodontics, and organized dentistry,” he said. Her exceptional leadership qualities are legendary, surpassed only by her keen interest in preserving and advancing the ethical standards of our profession. Dr. Blanton's career has always been about exceeding expectations, and the ADA Distinguished Service Award is a fitting recognition of her lifetime commitment to leadership and placing the needs of others above self.”  

He continued: “Congratulations Pat. Texas dentists are very proud to call you one of our own."

Registration is now open for ADA 2017, where Dr. Blanton will speak, at ADA.org/meeting.