Bringing the history of dentistry to life

Image of schulich dentistry

“I was a guy who wanted to be a chemical engineer,” said Dr. David Kenny, DDS’70. “But at the end of my first week studying Dentistry at Western, I said, this is the best thing ever.” It was on the advice of his then fiancé, and now wife Judith, that he applied to dentistry. Now, 49 years later, Dr. Kenny is co-authoring a book about the History of Dentistry at Western and completing a documentary history.

And it’s all being timed to coincide with Dentistry 50th anniversary.

Dr. Kenny was born and raised in Southwestern Ontario. After completing his BSc, he was focused on a career in science and was going to study soil microbiology. With a lack of jobs in Canada, he took a chance on a new dental school opening at Western.

After a meeting with Dr. Wes Dunn, founding dean of Dentistry, Dr. Kenny knew Western was for him. “I walked out of that interview, and started thinking, I really wanted to be a dentist. I really liked the idea of a brand new school – there was a real vitality to the place.”

Dr. Kenny was one of eight students in the charter class. Reflecting on his years as a dentistry student, stirs up fond memories of his classmates, the many activities they were involved with, the faculty, and the University. “Western has always had this strong aspect of caring for the student,” he said. It was something that he and his classmates benefited from. “The faculty was incredibly supportive, we were like their kids.”

After graduation Dr. Kenny attended the University of Toronto where he completed his diploma in paediatric dentistry and his PhD in neurophysiology. He began his career as Dentist-in-Chief at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. In 1981, he moved to Toronto to become Dentist-in-Chief at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), a role he continued in until 1997.

While at SickKids, Dr. Kenny took on a leadership role in establishing their paediatric dental research program. It was this work that he found most satisfying. As the Director of Dental Research and Graduate Studies at SickKids and Professor of Dentistry, he supervised and mentored 15 master’s students, and focused research in breathing and swallowing interactions, dental trauma management and paediatric clinical research. Dr. Kenny also served in a number of other roles including, Director, Cleft Lip and Palate/Craniofacial Dental Program from 1982 to 2008 and consulted with the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital.

While he was building his career, the dentistry program at Western continued to grow and expand. It’s this great history that Dr. Kenny will be documenting.

He’s thrilled to be co-authoring the book with Shelley McKellar, PhD, the Hannah Chair in the History of Medicine, and an associate professor jointly appointed to the Departments of Surgery, and History.

McKellar believes the 50-year mark for Dentistry provides an opportune moment to reflect on the journey of the Dentistry program at Western. A medical historian, McKellar hopes to bring the broader historical context of dental training and practice in a changing health care environment to the project. “The project will take note of how Dentistry at Western is different from other Canadian programs and highlight initiatives and innovations that originated at Western.”

Drs. Kenny and McKellar will also be working closely with Anne Daniels, Western Archives, one of the University’s archivists. “With Anne’s involvement, we will ensure that historical photos, written records and related material will be well preserved and cared for at Western. The Medical Artifact Collection at Western will welcome the donation of dental objects adding to the tooth keys, dental drills and other dental equipment already in the collection,” said McKellar.

The documentary history project, which will collect mementos, journals, photographs and historical items for study, and the book, will take about two years to complete.

Dr. Kenny is not deterred by the enormity of the task however. Inspired by the 50th anniversary of Dentistry, he’s energized by the support already received by Dr. Michael J. Strong, Dean of Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, Dr. Wes Dunn, and many of his fellow alumni.

Dr. Kenny is also looking forward to attending a number of upcoming events including the Ontario Dental Association reception, the 50th anniversary gala and Homecoming. He hopes to share more details about the book with his classmates and others at the events, and encourages them to share their memorabilia and memories to support the projects.

If you would like to share artifacts, photographs or your personal Western experience with Dr. Kenny or Professor McKellar, please send an email to Dr. Kenny at