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Martin Hobdell, global oral health expert, dies at age of 79

December 20, 2017

By David Burger

Dr. Martin Hobdell
Mentor: Dr. Martin Hobdell meets with students in the Health Volunteers Overseas Oral Health Initiative Program in Laos in 2014.

Martin H. Hobdell, Ph.D., a globe-trotting, world-renowned expert in oral epidemiology, health inequity and health service delivery, died Dec. 14 from complications following a stroke. He was 79.

The British citizen was respected so much for his work, especially with Health Volunteers Overseas and the ADA, that in 2005 the ADA bestowed upon him honorary membership.

Dr. Hobdell was a key figure in the ADA’s international efforts for many years. Most notably, he led the ADA/HVO Southeast Asia Masters in Dental Public Health training programs in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

“We all admired Martin and owe him so much in our private and professional lives,” said longtime colleague and friend Dr. Habib Benzian, in an email to Dr. Hobdell’s friends. “The loss is beyond words.” 

Dr. Hobdell published his first research paper on oral epidemiology in 1966. He graduated from the University of London in 1961, where he received his Ph.D. and then held positions at King's College and then in oral health at the London Hospital Medical College Dental School. He has also served as chair of the Department of Dental Public Health and Dental Hygiene at the University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston. For nearly 10 years he was professor at the University of Dublin-Trinity ColleDge, and for five years he was dean of the faculty of dentistry at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, South Africa.

He worked extensively in Africa, primarily in Mozambique, Tanzania and South Africa, and he also taught short courses and acted as consultant for a number of organizations in Asia and Southeast Asia, primarily in Sri Lanka, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Among other honors and positions, Dr. Hobdell as treasurer of the FDI Section Dental Public Health from 1994-2003 and was elected thereafter as member to the World Dental Development and Health Promotion Committee. In a nomination letter for Dr. Hobdell’s honorary membership in the ADA, Dr. J.T. Barnard, past executive director of the FDI, said, “Professor Hobdell is held in very high regard amongst his fellow committee members and in the larger dental community because of his analytical thinking, calm composure under stressful circumstances and his creative approach to problem solving. His vast and long-standing experience in international oral health, health policy administration, public health research and dental science are a great asset for the FDI and contribute, together with his gentle and diplomatic character, to the very high respect that he enjoys internationally.”

“His depth of understanding and the compassion he brings to promoting public health in developing countries is unique,” said Dr. Gregory Chadwick when nominating Dr. Hobdell for honorary membership. “He is extremely gracious in all cultural settings. In addition, he is an organized leader who passionately shares his profession with whomever he comes into contact. He epitomizes the ideal dental professional and will bring credit to the American Dental Association as an Honorary Member.”

“I wish to commend Professor Hobdell as a committed, highly motivated colleague who has contributed in a major way to oral health through his work in academics, research, practice and in reaching out to communities in newly emerging countries,” said John Clarkson, Ph.D., dean of the dental school and hospital of Trinity College in Dublin, in another letter recommending Dr. Hobdell for honorary membership.

If people wish to contact Dr. Hobdell’s family, the address is:

38 Park Lane
NR18 9BG
United Kingdom