For RSDM’s first students, dental school was a place to learn the now-antiquated art of gold foil restorations and dental implants were decades away from being common practice.
“You take some pride in how the profession has evolved,” says Dr. Robert Forte, who graduated from RSDM’s first class in 1960.
Back then, the school, which opened in Jersey City in 1956, was known as Seton Hall College of Medicine and Dentistry. It went on to change its name five times, a series of transformations that were symbolic of the school’s growth.
In 1965, RSDM became the New Jersey College of Medicine and Dentistry after it was acquired by the state, and later, the College of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. In 1981, it was renamed the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) before becoming part of Rutgers University in 2013.
Forte says the school’s early days were hard on students, not just because dental school can be grueling, but because the pressure to succeed was great for faculty and staff as well.
“They were really tough on us because it was a new school and no one wanted it to fall on its face,” remembers Forte.
But there was also a sense of excitement among pioneering students. “We started the first fraternities, we got to pick out the first class rings, we took the first tests,” he says.
Forte, who is 84 and still practices dentistry part-time in Ridgewood, was one of three members of the class of ’60 who attended RSDM’s 60th birthday party last month. He was joined by long-time RSDM supporter Dr. Anthony Volpe, faculty Dr. Peter Kudyba, a Clinical Professor in Restorative Dentistry, and Helen Grawehr, wife of the late Dr. Theodore Grawehr.
Although being a member of the inaugural class wasn’t easy, students formed close bonds, especially because there were only 36 students. “It was such a small class, you got to know everyone,” says Forte. Eight of the Class of ’60’s surviving members still meet every year to catch up, he says.
Technology may have changed since Forte left dental school in 1960, but the rewards of the profession are the same, he says. “I enjoy doing what I do. You meet a lot of people, you help ease their pain, and it’s satisfying just to help put people back together,” he says with a laugh.