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Wells Named First Heber Simmons, Jr., Endowed Professor of Pediatric Dentistry

The College of Dentistry named Martha Wells, as its first Heber Simmons, Jr., Endowed Professor of Pediatric Dentistry. Pictured left to right are Drs. Heber Simmons, Jr.; James Ragain, dean of the College of Dentistry; and Larry Dormois, chair of the Department of Pediatric Dentistry and Community Oral Health. (Photo by Jackie Denton/UTHSC)

The College of Dentistry has named Martha Wells, DMD, MS, as its first Heber Simmons, Jr., Endowed Professor of Pediatric Dentistry. Dr. Wells is the director of Graduate Pediatric Dentistry and an associate professor in the Department of Pediatric Dentistry and Community Oral Health.

The Heber Simmons, Jr., Endowed Professorship of Pediatric Dentistry was established to honor Heber Simmons, Jr., DDS, MS, for his contributions to the field of pediatric oral health. Dr. Simmons is a dual alumnus of UTHSC, where he received his MS (’57) and DDS (’62) degrees. Throughout his career he has been an advocate for pediatric dental care. He is credited with raising more than $100 million in legislative appropriations to support pediatric dental education.

Led by friends of Dr. Simmons, alumni, and faculty of the College of Dentistry, the endowed professorship was chaired by Pitts Hinson, DDS, (’75). The committee included Larry Dormois, DDS, MS; Vent Murphy, DDS, MS, (’86); Steve Fuson, DDS, MS, (’92); Dr. Brad Wilkinson, DDS, MS, (’91); John Bogert, DDS; Charlie Hall, DDS, MS, (’62); Paul Kennedy, Jr., DDS; Jasper L. Lewis, Jr., DDS, MS; Jerry Miller, DDS, MSD; Stephen Moss, DDS, MS; and Charlie Wilkinson, DDS, MS, (’57).

On the faculty at UTHSC for more than eight years, Dr. Wells said she is honored to receive this distinction.

“I know Heber, and he’s been a very supportive alumnus of the program,” she said. “He’s really a giant in pediatric dentistry and has done so much for the specialty from a political standpoint. It’s really an honor to even be under his name and to know him personally. He’s really a wonderful human being.”

Through his advocacy and commitment to the profession, Dr. Simmons secured millions of dollars in federal funding, which has been used to increase the number of pediatric dentists and pediatric dental faculty throughout the country. He has served as a congressional expert panelist in promoting initiatives in improving access for underserved communities and children. In addition to advocacy work, Dr. Simmons maintained a private practice for more than 55 years in Jackson, Mississippi.

Originally from Eastman, Georgia, Dr. Wells had her sights set on working in genetics, until she had the opportunity to shadow a pediatric dentist. Through that experience, she decided to pursue dentistry instead.

Dr. Wells is a graduate of Emory University and the Medical College of Georgia School of Dentistry. She received her advanced training in pediatric dentistry from The Ohio State University and Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Dr. Wells is active on many professional boards, including the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry’s Qualifying Examination and Oral Examination Committees. She served as the 2014 president of Omicron Kappa Upsilon Honor Society, and on the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry’s Annual Session Scientific Programming Committee.

Her work has appeared in many publications, including Pediatric Dentistry, the Journal of the American Dental Association, the International Journal of Pediatric Dentistry, Dental Traumatology, and the Journal of Clinical Pediatric Dentistry. In addition, she is an editor for “Pediatric Dentistry: Infancy through Adolescence,” a leading textbook for pediatric dental education.

She has been honored with many awards, including the Dr. John Diggs Nelson Faculty Award for Excellence in Graduate Dental Education, the College of Dentistry Dean’s Appreciation Award, and is an Outstanding Mentor Academy inductee.

She hopes to continue Dr. Simmons’ work by securing the future of pediatric dentistry through the students and residents she educates. She has served as a research mentor and adviser to more than 17 fellows and postgraduate students.

“Because I’m typically not the one providing the dental care, my mission is to impart my knowledge and share that knowledge with other people, and help them to become better clinicians,” Dr. Wells said. “If I make them better clinicians and better critical thinkers, and more sensitive to cultural needs and becoming patient advocates, then I can hopefully improve the lives of children, even if I’m not holding the hand piece.”