Brian J. Swann, DDS, MPH, HSDM Faculty

Assistant Professor of Oral Health Policy and Epidemiology, Harvard School of Dental Medicine

Dr. Brian J. Swann is Chief of Oral Health Services for the Cambridge Health Alliance and conducts the Oral Physician Program within the General Practice Residency Program. At the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, he is Assistant Professor of Oral Health Policy and Epidemiology.

Dr. Swann graduated from the University of California, San Francisco, School of Dentistry. After practicing for 30 years in California, he switched gears to focus on public health and dentistry, and became the first Joseph L. Henry Fellow in Minority Health Policy at Harvard Medical School. He received a Master of Public Health degree from the Harvard School of Public Health and was presented with the Albert Schweitzer Award in recognition of his commitment to global outreach.

He is involved with projects in Boston Massachusetts, Jamaica, and Rwanda, and developed an oral health care education project for the Wampanoag Tribe on Martha’s Vineyard, a Massachusetts island.

Interview Transcript (pdf)

“So the, UCSF had a large contingency of black employees, and when they did not see students of African descent in the student body, they went on strike.”

“When I got interviewed, the assistant dean, said, ‘Where else did you apply?’ I said, ‘Nowhere else.’ She said, ‘Oh, that’s too bad.’ I said, ‘Why?’ and she ways, ‘Because your faculty doesn’t want to teach people like you. And if you have another option, I advise you to take it, because you’re going to catch hell here.”

“I did get accepted by the Commonwealth Fund Fellowship in Minority Health Policy at Harvard University. But I did not get accepted initially by the School of Public Health.”

“… one of the vice presidents of the California Boards said that, ‘you know, you guys might bully your way through dental school, but you will not pass the California boards.”

“So I put the instruments that I needed and boiled them for 30 minutes, and extracted her tooth at the kitchen table.”

“He called me up, and says, ‘Brian, I see that you want to hold off for a year. That’s fine. But let me tell you what’s behind door number two.’ ”

“I took them to Kenya and to Zanzibar on one trip, and we also got together and I took them to Ethiopia for the first international dental conference in that country, of 76 million people that only had 48 dentists.”

“…and so Harvard Dental School now does a lot of global oral health projects, which I’m happy to say I was part of the team that initiated that.”

“…when I said the word dentist, it seemed like everything just went towards teeth, and I have a problem with that, because we are doing more than just teeth.”

“I want the patients to be confused, to a point, in order to ask the question, what is an oral  physician?”

"We started the program in a collaboration with Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, the Wampanoag tribe, and Harvard School of Dental Medicine.”

“The number of African Americans to come through Harvard Dental School has been very, very dismal, and small.”

“I mean Rwanda, we started this program, had 25 dentist for 11 million people. Now they have 40 dentists that we’ve graduated.”

“If you only come here to learn how to fix teeth, then you need to go somewhere else. Because Harvard prides itself on training leaders…” 

Faculty Member
School Timeline
HSDM/Oral Health History