Though in 1950 she had never taught a class, except Sunday school, Massachusetts native Dr. Esther Wilkins was willing to venture to the Pacific Northwest and lead the first eight students enrolled in the dental hygiene program in Washington.

There she devised a program of study and created mimeographed handouts that evolved into an up-to-date textbook for the profession of dental hygiene. Clinical Practice of the


At her home office in March, 2015, Dr. Esther Wilkins shares a glimpse of a treasured original copy of Clinical Practice of the Dental Hygienist, now in its 12th edition.

Dental Hygienist (shown, inset at left and above), now in its twelfth edition, has been used around the world and translated into several languages.

Contributions of this dental powerhouse will be recounted in the days ahead.  Esther Wilkins BS, RDH, DMD died Monday night, just days after celebrating her 100th birthday.

One of just three women in the Tufts University School of Dental Medicine Class of 1949, Dr. Wilkins received The Lucy Hobbs Project Industry Icon Award in 2015.

Dr. Wilkins told Incisal Edge at that time she was shocked to learn she’d been honored with a Lucy Hobbs Project Award.

“I was very pleased and surprised,” Dr. Wilkins said. “What does ‘Industry Icon’ really mean?”

As reported this afternoon by, Dr. Wilkins was to be honored with the dean’s medal for her accomplishments and leadership at Tufts this Friday, along with her colleague and fellow 1949 graduate, Dr. Hilde Tillman. The dean’s medal is the highest honor a university dean can award to individuals who have made significant contributions to the school and their communities, according to a statement from the school.

The author of the dental hygienist’s bible, the presenter of nearly 1,000 continuing education courses around the world, and the namesake of the indispensable dental instrument, the Wilkins/Tufts Explorer, Dr. Esther Wilkins contributions to the field of dentistry have spanned a century.

In 2015, when speaking with, Dr. Wilkins discussed her entry into dentistry and the fortitude she derived from her hardworking mother and mentor sister, Ruth.

Their girls’ mother, a secretary for the president of a blanket company in Lowell, Massachusetts, was adamant that Esther and Ruth attend college, an experience she hadn’t had herself. But Esther couldn’t decide on a career path, and it was Ruth who directed Esther toward a professional life in the health sciences.

“I can remember her saying, ‘Esther, you’ve got to decide what you want to do,’” Dr. Wilkins wrote by email in 2015 to Incisal Edge reporter Elizabeth Dilts.

Dr. Wilkins was a born doer, and after graduating with a bachelor’s in general science from Simmons College in Boston, she earned her certification as a Registered Dental Hygienist at The Forsythe School for Dental Hygiene, which now has a state-of-the-art-clinic named after her.


In its summer 2015 edition, Incisal Edge dental lifestyle magazine profiled Dr. Esther Wilkins regarding  her Lucy Hobbs Project Industry Icon award. Read the full story. 

According to the Incisal Edge interview, she then spent roughly eight years working with Dr. Frank Willis at coastal community practice in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts. When she was admitted to Tufts University School of Dental Medicine class of 1949,  she spent holidays working with Willis to earn money for school expenses.

Fast forward 60 years: Dr. Wilkins’ contributions to dentistry are counted among the 40,000 treasures housed at the National Museum of Dentistry located in Baltimore, Maryland, one of the largest and most significant collections in the world.

Read more about Esther Wilkins BS, RDH, DMD:


During a record-breaking snowfall in March, 2015, an adventure on behalf of Benco Dental and The Lucy Hobbs Project delivered me and a road-warrior colleague, Amy Llewellyn, to the Boston doorstep of Dr. Esther Wilkins.  Our good fortune: a gracious dental legend welcomed us into her home to wile away an afternoon. We sat rapt for hours as Dr. Wilkins weaved stories of her life’s journey thus far. Her farewell to us that day included a glimpse of a treasured original copy of her masterwork: Clinical Practice of the Dental Hygienist.


In the presence of greatness.  Industry Icon Dr. Esther Wilkins welcomes Incisal Edge Associate Editor Kristie Ceruti into her home for a 2015 magazine interview.