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Dentistry loses Dr. Gordon Rovelstad, a 'giant in the profession'

Columbia, Md.—"The changes that I have seen in dentistry over the course of my career are quite unbelievable," Dr. Gordon H. Rovelstad wrote in the year before his April 13, 2009, death.

He is credited with research supporting the introduction of community water fluoridation. But in "Fifty Years of Change in Dentistry with Dr. Gordon Rovelstad," (co-author Dr. Stephen A. Ralls, Journal of the American College of Dentists 2008 Fall; 75(3): 5-8), he merely notes that among those changes, "Fluoride was introduced in community water supplies." Dr. Rovelstad published studies of the effects of fluoride on teeth.

"Dr. Rovelstad was one of those giants in the profession that your everyday practitioner seldom gets to meet, much less learn from," said Dr. Alan H. Golden of Quantico, Va. "He was an inspiration to me personally."

"I remember Captain Rovelstad as the head of the Naval Dental School research department when I was a new lieutenant commander starting my first project on dental operating room design," said Dr. Robert Wirthlin, Martinez, Calif. "He was very supportive of things new and useful."

"What a gentleman he was," said Dr. Robert J. "Skip" Collins, University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. "He was involved in so many facets of dentistry yet he was always interested in what you thought. I am not sure when he found the time, but he told me that he was once a single digit handicap golfer."

A general practitioner, pediatric dentist, clinician, clinical professor, Navy career dentist, scientist and researcher, administrator and educator, Dr. Rovelstad thrived in what colleagues say was "an exemplary career in dentistry."

Leadership included presidencies of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry, the American College of Dentists (and later ACD executive director), the William J. Gies Foundation and the International Association of Dental Research. He chaired the graduate and postgraduate education section of the American Association of Dental Schools, which is now the American Dental Education Association, and served his profession in many ways. He was, for example, a manuscript reviewer for The Journal of the American Dental Association.

Dr. Rovelstad was a retired life member of the ADA, Maryland State Dental Association and Southern Maryland Dental Society

He received dental, master's and Ph.D. degrees from Northwestern University, joining the Northwestern Dental School faculty as an assistant professor of pediatric dentistry. He was chief of pediatric service at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

Called to active duty in the Korean War, he was with the First Marine Division in Korea and remained with the Navy for a career emphasizing dental research. Dr. Rovelstad served as commanding officer of the Naval Dental Research Institute and retired in 1974 with the rank of captain.  

Dr. Rovelstad served as professor and chair of the department of pediatric dentistry and assistant dean for education programs while developing a dental school at the University of Mississippi.

Gordon Henry Rovelstad, DDS, USN Captain (Ret.), was born May 19, 1921, in Elgin, Ill. Husband of the late Barbara J. Rovelstad and beloved father of Martha Caulfield, Andrew T. Rovelstad and Craig Rovelstad, grandfather of Kirsten, Jordan, Savanna, Maya and the late Peter; brother of Randolph Rovelstad and Dorothy Nesse, he is also survived by many nieces and nephews, says the notice posted at

Memorial contributions may be made in the name of Gordon H. Rovelstad to the Children's National Medical Center, 111 Michigan Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C., 20010.