Dentistry Celebrates Black History Month

The dental community owes a huge debt of gratitude to Geneva Craig. Without her counsel, one of the profession’s notable forces for change might have directed her talents to the world of dance.

At least that’s how Dr. Jeanne Craig Sinkford describes the guidance from her mother Geneva as the impetus behind her decision to enroll at the historically black research university, Howard University, at the age of 16.

“I got a (ballet) scholarship to go to New York. My mother thought I was too young to go, and so she said ‘keep your head in the books,'” Dr. Sinkford explained in a 2019 video interview with Three Roads Communications.

Prior to that, in 1949, she graduated from Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C. where she was born in 1933, during the Depression, to Geneva and Richard Craig.

Dr. Jeanne Craig Sinkford discusses her early aspirations as a ballerina during a 2019 video interview with Three Roads Communications.

Lucky for dentistry, a young Jeanne Craig followed her mom’s guidance.

During Black History Month, and every day, the dental community honors the contributions of African Americans to U.S. history and oral health care. Today, the spotlight is on the storied career of Dr. Jeanne Craig Sinkford.

According to, the nation’s largest African American Video Oral History Collection, Dr. Sinkford:

  • became one of the first women to attend Howard University’s School of Dentistry.
  • in 1958, graduated top in her dental class at Howard University (the first woman valedictorian at the college in 73 years),
  • in 1963, became the first female prosthodontist with a PhD (earned in physiology at Northwestern University School of Dentistry),
  • in 1964, became the chair of the prosthodontic department (the largest department at the college) at Howard University and became the first woman in the U.S. to lead such a department,
  • in 1975, became the first female dean of any dental school in the U.S. and broke the gender barrier when she was appointed dean of Howard University College of Dentistry,
  • in 1979, coauthored Profile of a Negro in American Dentistry with Foster Kidd, DDS,
  • founded international women’s leadership programming for women’s health and oral health of the world population at American Dental Education Association (ADEA), and
  • helped lead the American Dental Education Association (ADEA) in creating numerous opportunities for the advancement of women and underrepresented minorities.

In a 2019 interview when Dr. Sinkford received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Howard University. She discussed her role in dentistry and why she felt she had to be performing at 120 percent throughout her career:

“You were going to be evaluated differently by your color and your gender. The minute you open your mouth everybody is listening to what you’re saying. That’s why my role on many of the councils or commissions has been important. I was the only black face there that they were looking at and many times they weren’t sure what I was.”

Dr. Jeanne Craig Sinkford explains why she felt she had to be performing at 120 percent.
(Courtesy of A video interview Created when Dr. Sinkford received an Honorary Doctor of Science Degree from Howard University. (Created by 3 Roads Communications)

Fast forward to 2020. Dr. Sinkford receives the American College of Dentists’ highest accolade: the William John Gies Award.

In its citation, the American College of Dentists praised Dr. Sinkford for her efforts to recruit women and minority students to the dental profession as well as her well-established reputation as an educator, administrator, clinician and community advocate.

“As an octogenarian and one of the first women members of the college (Howard University College of Dentistry), I continue to serve and devote my life to the advancement of women and minorities. While this award recognizes past achievements, it also is a compelling call to action for continued support of the lofty ideals of the American College of Dentists on which our beloved profession depends.”

Dr. Jeanne Craig Sinkford, on her 2020 William John Gies Award from the American College of Dentists (Excerpt from a video created by 3 Roads Communications)

Dr. Sinkford’s numerous accolades include alumni achievement awards from Northwestern University and Howard University in 1970 and 1976, one of the first Candace Awards from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women in 1982, the 1984 Award of Merit from the American Fund for Dental Health, the 2007 Trailblazer Award from the National Dental Association and the 2010 Fauchard Gold Medal. In 2019, the Howard University Board of Trustees awarded Dr. Sinkford an honorary doctorate.

Sharing a Howard University honor with her first mentor

Dr. Sinkford’s honorary doctorate degrees number in the hundreds from academic and medical institutions, including one she received in 2019: an Honorary Doctor of Science degree from Howard University.

“I really thought if my mother had had the opportunities that I have had…this award that I’m getting this year I’m sharing with her because I know she is in heaven looking down and she’s happy.”

Dr. Jeanne Craig Sinkford, in her commencement video for receiving an Honorary Doctor of Science Degree from Howard University. (Created by 3 Roads Communications)

Today, Dr. Sinkford resides in Maryland and has three children with her late husband, Dr. Stanley M. Sinkford, Jr.: Dianne Sylvia, Janet Lynn, and Stanley M. Sinkford, III.