Dr. Edward Sterling

Dr. Edward Sterling

Achievement Award Winner

For over 40 years, Dr. Edward Sterling has been a passionate and enthusiastic advocate of the dental profession. On Friday, Sept. 16, Sterling will receive the Ohio Dental Association Achievement Award for his dedication to the dental profession at this year’s Callahan Celebration of Excellence, held in conjunction with the 145th ODA Annual Session in Columbus, Ohio.

Sterling retired in December 2010 as Director of Dental Services at the Nisonger Center, having devoted close to 40 years to caring for people with special needs. His program at Nisonger Center is the longest standing program of its kind in the United States, and for those years, every student trained at the Ohio State University College of Dentistry was exposed to people with special needs – a feat unmatched anywhere else in dental education.

On becoming involved with the Nisonger Center, Sterling explains how he found his passion.

“While I was completing my pediatric training in Portland, OR one of my rotations was through a program similar to The Nisonger Center at OSU. It was an interdisciplinary program in which I had the opportunity to work and interact directly on a daily basis with pediatricians, speech pathologists, nurses, psychologists, social workers, audiologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, etc,” he said. “I had a host of “teachers,” all of whom had a range of skills and body of knowledge that could be helpful to me in the provision of dental care for children. The fact that it focused on children with disabilities was secondary. The excitement for me was the broadening of my scope of knowledge and skills.”

When Sterling completed his pediatric training in 1967, he wanted to continue the relationship he discovered in Oregon.

“I intended to practice and look for a part time teaching opportunity after I completed my military obligation. When I came to Ohio in 1971, I still had practice and teaching in mind; however, I discovered that I had things reversed,” he said. “I became the full time director of the dental program at Nisonger Center and practiced part time to help maintain a dose of reality in my teaching activities.”

Sterling’s novel relationship with the Franklin County Board of MRDD that supports Nisonger is considered a “best practice” by the Association of State and Territorial Dental Directors (ASTDD) as a sustainable, comprehensive source of care for persons with disabilities. He has been honored by the Franklin County Board of MRDD for his service and dedication.

Even so, on receiving the Achievement Award from the ODA, Sterling said he feels humbled by it.

“To be recognized by colleagues is like being voted to an all star team by the other players,” he said. “It is a great honor, especially since it is coming from fellow dentists.”

Sterling became interested in the dental profession through a series of events and the process of elimination.

“As a child I spent a lot of time in the dental office as a patient. I can’t remember it ever being a negative experience,” he said. “In college, I knew that I wanted to be a professional. I had considered pharmacy and psychology but they fell by the wayside. I liked what I saw in dentistry, helping people, the science and art; and the idea of ‘being my own boss.’ Those things appealed to me.”

Sterling graduated from the University of Illinois at Navy Pier, Chicago in 1961 and went on to become an alumnus of the University of Illinois, College of Dentistry in 1965. In 1967, he was awarded a Certificate for Pediatric Dentistry from the University of Oregon Dental School.

Later In his career he did not stop looking for opportunities to help those with disabilities. Dr. Sterling, started, from scratch, the Johnstown Dental Center, a 2-chair clinic that provides dental care to preschool and kindergarten children with special needs in a school-centered health commons concept along with other health services. This clinic is also one of the largest providers of dental care to Latino preschoolers in central Ohio.

In all of these endeavors, Sterling single handedly found and maintained support from a variety of sources. Clever grant-writing highlighting innovation and program expansion allowed him to obtain funding in very competitive grant programs. Dr. Paul Casamassimo, a reviewer for one of the grant applications from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry’s Foundation, Healthy Smiles, Healthy Children, said “I can tell you that in one competition, involving over 60 applications, his proposal ranked first and was subsequently funded.”

After many successful years dedicating his time and energy to the dental profession, Sterling still has more goals for the future.

“I would like to become more involved with Special Olympics. I am the State Coordinator for the State Summer Games and that has been a lot of fun. The participation of dental and dental hygiene students, residents and dental health professionals from all over Ohio has been very gratifying and at the same time, we are collecting important data that can help improve dental care for people with disabilities,” he said. “I would like to be more involved with the Humanitarian Foundation of The Grottoes of North America. I have been their dental consultant for many years. The Grottoes is a Mason affiliated organization with a particular interest in dental services for children with disabilities. They provide a linkage and are a potential financial resource for dental care for children who fall through cracks in the system,” he said. “Because The Grottoes have maintained a low profile, its availability as a resource is not as well known as it should be. It can be an invaluable asset. I will be working with The Grottoes to increase visibility.”

Sterling places much emphasis on the importance of organized dentistry. “Ultimately, I believe the greatest benefit of organized dentistry is the voice it provides for us,” he said. “Without it, we would have little to no input or impact into the world in which we practice and teach.”

“Dentistry is essentially a ‘cottage industry’ without a central gathering or focal point. Medicine has hospital affiliation as a major focal point. Dentists, therefore, would have no significant voice without organized dentistry. The local dental societies, state associations and national organizations like the ADA and the specialty associations are THE “voice” for us as individual dentists. Though we may not always agree with the position taken, it is our best chance to be heard and to have an impact on state and national policy and practice,” he said.

"In addition, organized dentistry helps us as individuals to keep abreast of changes in the rules of practice, the explosion of dental materials, research, use of social media and the changing face of practice with the recognition of concepts like evidence based care. Organized dentistry is our best link to the past, present and future of our profession,” he said.

In his leisure time, Sterling says he enjoys playing handball at the local YMCA and in tournaments. He enjoys theater and concerts and volunteers for Six String Concerts, an organization that brings in singer/songwriters from Ohio. Sterling also considers himself a serious fan of the Columbus Blue Jackets, except when they are playing the Red Wings. With travel as one of his passions, Sterling and his wife Dora recently took a Mediterranean cruise and plan to go to China soon.

Despite his many accomplishments, Sterling takes his greatest pride in his family. Sterling and his wife have been raising their two grandsons for the past 14 years who are the children of their adopted daughter. His son Brad, is a business consultant in retail and lives in Oregon and has blessed Sterling with a grandson Griffen. Sterling’s daughter Cara, lives in the Boston area, and has two sons Nicholas and Jeffrey. Sterling’s five grandsons range in age from 7 to 19 years old and he plans to spend more time with them in the future due to his recent retirement.

Congratulations to Dr. Edward Sterling!