Journal of Indian Association of Public Health Dentistry

: 2018  |  Volume : 16  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 274--276

Republication: A tribute to Dr Mohandas Bhat

MR Shankar Aradhya 
 Formerly Professor and Head, Department of Preventive and Social Dentisry, Government Dental College, Bangalore, India

Correspondence Address:
Prof. M R Shankar Aradhya
Formerly Professor and Head, Department of Preventive and Social Dentisry, Government Dental College, Bangalore

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Shankar Aradhya M R. Republication: A tribute to Dr Mohandas Bhat.J Indian Assoc Public Health Dent 2018;16:274-276

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Shankar Aradhya M R. Republication: A tribute to Dr Mohandas Bhat. J Indian Assoc Public Health Dent [serial online] 2018 [cited 2018 Dec 13 ];16:274-276
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Republished with permission from: Shankar Aradhya MR. A Tribute to Dr Mohandas Bhat. JIAPHD. 2013;11(2):1-4.

Dr Mohandas Bhat initiated Public Health Dentistry in the late 1960s in India. Public Health Dentistry has witnessed lot of developments since then. On the request of JIAPHD Dr. M R Shankar Aradhya has scripted a brief account of Dr. Mohandas Bhat in his impeccable way. This historical account reflects the beginning of Public Health Dentistry in India. His life and journey has been exemplary on many counts and shall inspire many generations to follow.

 Family Background

Mohandas was born in a Gowd Saraswath Brahmin (GSB) Konkani family, originally from Uppinangadi village, about 40 miles from Mangalore in South Kanara District of then Madras Presidency, now in Karnataka State. His grandfather was U. Purushottham Bhat, an Ayurvedic physician in Mangalore, who had nine children, five sons and four daughters. The eldest two sons became physicians with MBBS degrees. Dr. Sunder Ram Bhat, the second son, took up practicing dentistry in Madras city (now Chennai), after obtaining some preceptor ship training with a dentist. In the pre-independence era there were no dental colleges in Madras Presidency and so anybody with a modicum of dental training could start a dental practice. The family fortunes took a reversal and the three younger brothers could not afford college and so Dr. S.R. Bhat trained his brothers, including Mohandas's father, U. Ramanath Bhat, to become dentists. Later, two of Mohandas's cousins also became dentists; one was a classmate of Mohandas, namely Manohar U. Bhat. Thus, Mohandas belonged to a family of dentists. Mohandas used to say euphemistically that the day he was born his father put an invisible stamp on his forehead “Dentist”!


Mohandas was born in Mangalore in 1935 to Sumithra and Ramanath Bhat. His father was practicing dentistry in Coimbatore. Mohandas was apparently a very difficult child, and so his mother sent him away at the age of four to Mangalore to be raised by his maternal grandmother and he remained there until he went to Bombay (now Mumbai) to study at the Nair Hospital Dental College, Bombay (NHDCB). His schooled at the Canara group of schools, graduating from the Canara High School in 1950. He completed his two-year Intermediate Science at the St. Aloysius College. His contact with his parents and his younger sister, Shantha, was mainly during the summer and X-mas vacations. Thus, his upbringing was mainly done by his stem but loving grandmother! The twice-a-year train travel between Coimbatore and Mangalore and later from Bombay instilled wanderlust in him and inspired him to travel the world!

Growing up, Mohandas was not athletically inclined but loved to go on long hikes with friends. He loved books of all types, including mysteries, adventure, and travel books. He must have read hundreds of books in English in school and college and gained the reputation as a “walking dictionary” among his friends. During his childhood he did not particularly distinguish himself in his studies and was a late bloomer. The older he got the better were his grades, so much so, that in both his final LDSc and BDS exams he came in second in a class of about sixty students. He could have easily been admitted to any private or Govt. Medical College in the Madras Presidency in 1952. His father, however, was emphatic in sending him to study dentistry, his exact words were “Go to dental college or go to hell!” Of course, Mohandas had no choice and went on to study dentistry. His father's plans were for his son to join his practice and take over from him, but fate had other plans for Mohandas! Also, fortunately for him, the Indian Dentists Act of 1948 was immediately adopted by the Govt. of Madras, which precluded his father from training Mohandas as a preceptor under his own tutelage!

 Professional Life in India

Mohandas studied at the Nair Hospital Dental College, Bombay (NHDCB) from 1952 to 1956 graduating with a Diploma of LDSc and went on to Coimbatore to join his father's practice. The two, however, could not get along due to both personal and professional differences. After approximately two years, Mohandas quit Coimbatore. He returned to Bombay and enrolled in a newly minted one semester course at Nair Hospital Dental College, Bombay (NHDCB) to obtain his BDS degree in 1959. Later, under the five year plan, when the first batch of MDS in various specialties of dentistry was organized at the Bombay University, Mohandas obtained a sponsorship through the then Mysore Govt. (now Karnataka) to study Orthodontics. The Mysore Govt. had established the Govt. Dental College (GDC, since renamed GDCRI) in Bangalore (now Bengaluru) in 1958, which sorely needed MDS, trained faculty members.

After graduation, Mohandas joined the faculty of GDC in 1962 as a founding faculty member and established the first Orthodontic Dept. and clinic in the entire South of India. Moving teeth within the jaws, those days, was considered almost miracu] ous and Mohandas recalls one happy father telling the young Mohandas that he had attained the blessing of “Kanyadana” after fixing the crooked teeth of his pretty daughter! The orthodontic clinic functioned only in the afternoon, as the mornings were devoted to the exodontia clinic, where the pressure of patients seeking extractions was tremendous! The lines were long and the few faculty members were pressed into service to pull teeth. Mohandas estimates that he must have pulled close to half a million teeth during a five year period, of course most of them were loose teeth! He recalls a visit from an American dentist who observed the hectic functioning of the GDC exodontia clinic and later remarked privately that the patients were herded through the clinic like cattle! This set Mohandas thinking that unless something was done to prevent dental scourges like caries, periodontal diseases and tooth attrition/abrasion, causing rampant loss of teeth in the population, the daily lines for getting teeth pulled will never come to an end, even after a thousand years! Unfortunately, preventive dentistry was an unheard of concept, let alone dental public health, in India during that time.

The rescue came in the shape of WHO-India 208 project, conceived by a Brazilian Dr. Mario Chaves, who was the Dental Director of WHO, in Geneva. He wanted to focus on one budding dental college as a model to deliver an up-to-date modem dental curriculum in India, including introducing teaching of preventive dentistry and dental public health. Dr. N.N. Berry the then president of the Dental Council of India/Dental Advisor to the Govt. India chose GDC as the site for this wonderful experiment in modernizing dental education in India. Dr. S. Ramachandra, the founding principal implemented this program, which started in 1965. The semester system was introduced, the curriculum was revised and several foreign scholarships were granted to faculty. Several visiting professors from Europe, North and South America came to GDC to teach various specialties. As fate would have it, as Mohandas's appointment was not regularized by the Mysore Public Service Commission in time, another orthodontist took over the orthodontics dept. from him. Fortunately, Mohandas, who had been sensitized to the pressing need for public health and preventive dentistry in India, volunteered to study dental public health and was briefed by Dr. Chaves on a visit to GDC in 1966. The WHO chose the University of Pittsburgh for this study as another Indian, Dr. Om P. Gupta was teaching a course in dental public health at the Graduate School of Public Health there. Dr. Gupta was the first Indian dentist to acquire a DrPH degree but his main specialty was Periodontics.

Mohandas studied for MPH, majoring in public health practice, in Pittsburgh during 1967-68, and later went on an extensive field program to study implementation of a dept. of dental public health (also called preventive and social dentistry or community dentistry) and training of dental auxiliaries at various dental institutions in the U.S., Colombia, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand. His wife Chitra joined in these travels which took them round the world.

Soon after his return, Mohandas lost no time in setting up the Dept. of Preventive and Social Dentistry, at GDC, the first such dept. in India. He initiated the first outreach program for dental students in India by borrowing an American Peace Corps van to take students to the nearby villages, once a week, for providing dental treatment. Later on, a minibus was acquired for this purpose, through a Central Govt. grant. He recalls telling his students that we were like first men on the moon, as the villagers had never seen a dentist before! The GDC by then had started MDS programs in some specialties. This gave an impetus for Mohandas to start an MDS program in Preventive and Social Dentistry in 1970 with intake of five students. This was done in spite of heavy odds as there were no other public health teachers at the Bangalore University at that time. In 1972, the first batch of MDS students graduated, among them the author of this paper.

 Professional Life Abroad

Although he was teaching the subject, Mohandas felt like an impostor as he had no degree in dental public health. Hence, he took leave of absence from GDC and went back to the U.S. in 1972, to study for a Doctorate in Public Health, majoring in Oral Epidemiology, a program just started at the University Of Michigan School Of Public Health, by Dr. David F. Striffler. Mohandas completed the three-year program in 1975, with his own and borrowed funds and had every intention of returning to Bangalore. However, he was side tracked by an offer from Project HOPE, an International Organization similar to WHO, but in the private sector, based in the U.S. He was assigned to the dental school of the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN) located in Natal, an under-served area of north-east Brazil. He and his wife both learned Portuguese on site and soon Mohandas was teaching dentistry in Portuguese. While demonstrating the Decayed, Missing and Filled (DMF) index to the students, he came across a nineteen-year-old dental assistant who wore full dentures, which shocked him! Further investigation revealed that the sugar cane industry in the region produced a cheap brown sugar (rapadura), used in making sweets, the cause of the high prevalence of dental decay and loss of teeth in the local poverty stricken population. Mohandas decided that a Master's program in Preventive Dentistry was badly needed in Natal. In 1977, he found an opportunity to start such a master's program with funds from the Brazilian Federal Govt., which was the third such program in Brazil. Thus, poetic justice was served as Mario Chaves ‘s generosity through the WHO to Mohandas, not only helped India but also helped his own countrymen in Brazil! Mohandas was also sent on assignments to dental schools in Medellin and Cartagena in Colombia and later to the Higher Dental School in Lisbon Portugal, by Project HOPE.

In 1980, Mohandas permanently migrated to the United States and joined the faculty of the Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) Dental School in Cleveland, Ohio. There, he also obtained an M.S. in a new discipline of Computers in Medicine (now renamed Medical Informatics). He modified the graduate course in Biostatistics to include Research Methodology and taught it for several years. In 1985, he joined the National Institute of Dental Research (now National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), in Bethesda, Maryland, where he worked from 1985 to 1995. Initially, he was in the Epidemiology and Oral Diseases Prevention Program and pioneered research on oro-facial injury and enamel defects. Later, he joined the Extramural Program as Director of Craniofacial Development and Disorders, with a portfolio of about 300 research projects in U.S. dental and medical schools, with funds totaling over U.S. $25Million. He soon got bored with this purely administrative work and took a leap into the unknown by accepting a position as a Radiation Epidemiologist/Health Scientist at the newly created Office of lnternational Health Programs at the Dept. of Energy (DOE). This office was funding studies of health effects of radiation in workers and population exposed to radiation, around the world.


Mrs Chitra and Prof. Mohandas Bhat at GDCRI, Bangalore in April 2010

By 1995, Mohandas had worked for nearly 40 years in the field of dentistry and was 60 years old when he started working in the field of radiation epidemiology at DOE. Although it was a complicated switch from oral epidemiology to radiation epidemiology, Mohandas consistently got outstanding performance evaluations, almost every year, even from different supervisors. He worked in various capacities including that of program manager in the Russian, Chernobyl, Spain and Marshall Islands programs, and also visited each of these program sites. He retired as Senior Science Advisor from the DOE at the beginning of 2008.

Since retiring, he has become a born again Hindu and even published a paper on Essentials of Hinduism in a religious publication. Mohandas and Chitra have three adult children, two daughters and a son and four grandchildren, two boys and two girls, all of whom live in the U.S.

In April 2010, he was recognized by the IAPHD for his pioneering contribution of ushering in the era of public health dentistry in India at their annual meeting in New Delhi. Later, the GDCRI also felicitated him in Bangalore, where it all began.

 Lessons Learned

Mohandas attributes his early success in both India and Brazil to his behavior as a “Karma Yogi” i.e. selfless, dedicated work without expecting any rewards. Later on, for selfish reasons he wanted to repeat his performance for the third time, as a feather in his cap, of having started master's programs on three different continents, but the third opportunity never came. This failure is one of his greatest disappointments in life, in spite of his other numerous achievements!


This article is republished in fond memory of Dr Mohandas Bhat who initiated the subject of Public Health Dentistry in India. His life shall inspire many generations to follow.