Colleagues Remember Dr. Anthony R. Volpe’s Contributions to Dental Research and Public Health

Dr. Anthony R. Volpe

When Dr. Anthony R. Volpe passed away last month at age 87, many at RSDM knew him as “Uncle Tony,’’ an alumni and donor who was deeply involved in the school, a fixture at convocations and White Coat Ceremonies, where he made it to a point to remember each student’s name.

In a letter to the RSDM community after his passing, Dean Cecile A. Feldman wrote, “Dr. Volpe was a role model, mentor and friend to many, who supported the school in innumerable ways, including his many scholarship donations and other gifts…While he loved to reminisce about his journeys, his favorite place was the Rutgers School of Dental Medicine.”

But in addition to being a great friend of the dental school and volunteer faculty, Dr. Volpe was also a groundbreaker in the fields of dental research and public health. As head of global oral health care and scientific affairs at Colgate-Palmolive for more than five decades, he helped change the role of toothpaste from something with mostly cosmetic value to a tool for preventing cavities and gum disease.

At Colgate, Dr. Volpe conducted studies on the efficacy of certain types of fluoride and other compounds in  that would become active ingredients in the brand’s products. His research on Total toothpaste helped secure unprecedented approvals from the Food and Drug Administration and the American Dental Association’s Council on Scientific Affairs, which validated the company’s claims that Total effectively reduced dental plaque, gingivitis, tooth decay, and dental calculus.

“Dr. Volpe possessed a great deal of humility, but in the field of dentistry and public health, he was a pioneer whose influence was profound,” wrote Dean Feldman.

He recognized the value of working with industry long before others, said colleagues.

“There was a lot of snobbery among dental researchers who didn’t want to lower themselves to work with industry,’’ said Dr. Daniel Fine, Chair of RSDM’s Department of Oral Biology. “He said to me, I dedicate as much of my scientific understanding to industry as I do to the NIH,’’ said Dr. Fine, who described Volpe as a mentor and “father figure.’’

“He said, the only way you’re going to improve public health is through industry. The important thing is to communicate with industry,’’ added Fine. “It’s hard to think of anyone who had a greater impact on dentistry than Tony.’’

Dr. Abdul Gaffar, who worked with Dr. Volpe when Gaffar was Vice President of Advanced Technology at Colgate, praised the worldwide clinical research Volpe conducted for the company’s products to ensure that they effectively fought dental caries and periodontal disease. He helped establish clinical research centers around the world.

“He was very important in creating the next generation of researchers in public health,’’ said Dr. Gaffar.

In addition to many of his contributions to dentistry, Dr. Volpe also co-created the Volpe-Manhold Index, a now-standard method of measuring dental calculus.

You can read more about Dr. Volpe’s life and career in his obituary here. Those wishing to pay their respects to the Volpe family, can make their donations here to the RSDM funds the family has selected.

Checks are made out to the Rutgers University Foundation and mailed to Rutgers University Foundation, Box 193, New Brunswick, NJ 08903.