Dr. L.D. Pankey, Sr. (“L.D.”) was born on July 31, 1901. He received his Doctorate in Dental Surgery degree from the College of Dentistry at the University of Louisville, practiced in New Castle, Kentucky, for one year, and then relocated his practice to Coral Gables, Florida, in 1926.
The motivation for his decision to leave New Castle came when he received a letter from his mother. She wrote,” I am happy you are doing so well in your practice, but I hope you are not doing to your patients what has been done to me. I have had all my teeth out and now have dentures. This has been the unhappiest experience of my life.”
L.D. had examined his parents while in dental school and was sure they did not need dentures. After reading his mother’s letter, he made a commitment to practice dentistry in a new way, focused on saving teeth. This was a difficult decision because at that time he did not know how to achieve his commitment. In 1926 the typical dental practice provided examinations, cleanings, extractions, silver and silicate fillings, and complete and partial dentures.
His decision to leave New Castle, Kentucky was driven by the desire to have a new, fresh start and to find his own way to practice dentistry without removing teeth. Over his lifetime, he often said, “When I left New Castle, I vowed that I would never take out another tooth as long as I lived.”
Shortly after arriving in Coral Gables, he was lucky to be invited to join a unique dental study club in Miami headed by an oral surgeon. The purpose of the study club was to study ways to prevent tooth loss. He couldn’t have moved to a better place to learn with and from other like-minded professionals.
What made this club unique was they did not pay an honorarium to speakers., Instead, they paid their travel expenses, and they personally entertained the speakers in their homes for the week. The speakers were happy to have a mini vacation with their families in Miami. This gave L.D. the opportunity to meet and befriend them.
Among the visiting speakers were notables such as Winston Price who talked about nutrition as it related to caries, C.C. Bass MD who talked about flossing and home care (the Bass tooth brushing technique and unwaxed floss), Harry Morton who talked about restorative dentistry and showed them how to use of the Munson articulator to create the curve of Spee and Wilson, and Clyde Schuyler who came down from New York City to discuss his ideas on occlusion.
The letter from his mother launched his unique career and influence on dentistry which has been indelible for the last 90 years. Reflecting on L.D., the person who inspired me most to take the career journey I have been on for over 50 years, I realize his philosophy of dentistry and his friendship still inspire and shape me. His mother’s letter is always on my mind as I continue to teach prosthodontics and chair the Department of Dentistry at the University of Toledo. I can’t imagine a more meaningful life than providing others with optimal health, function, and the happiness of having a beautiful smile.