UW School of Dentistry

Dr. Martha Fales, former UW dental hygiene chair, dies at 101

Dr. Martha Howard Fales, who chaired the Department of Dental Hygiene at the University of Washington School of Dentistry from 1961 to 1986, died on April 29 in Olympia, Wash., just weeks before her 102nd birthday.

Dr. Fales with bust
In 2015, Dr. Martha Fales visited the School of Dentistry, where she paused by a bust of Dean Maurice Hickey, under whom she served as Chair of the Department of Dental Hygiene.

Dr. Fales joined the school’s faculty in 1959 and assumed leadership of the Dental Hygiene Department from its founder, Dr. Esther Wilkins, one of the most influential figures in modern dental hygiene. Dr. Fales also left an indelible mark on the profession through her continuing advocacy on health and dental hygiene issues and her oversight of an outstanding four-year dental hygiene degree program at the UW. The program also offered an option for a master’s degree.

“The hygiene students took several basic science courses in parallel with dental students, and participated in treatment planning and treatment in clinic with students,” recalled Dr. Glen Johnson, Professor Emeritus of Restorative Dentistry at the UW. “This program was a model for hygiene education worldwide, and a very well-functioning program through which hygiene students, patients, and dental students benefited greatly.”

In 1990, the Washington Dental Hygienists’ Association established the Martha Fales Award to honor her and recognize other hygienists for outstanding contributions to their profession.

“Martha was indeed a special person and an inspiration for many generations of dental hygienists,” said Dr. Diane Daubert, who received her bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene from the UW in 1982 before  obtaining her master’s degree and PhD in oral biology. “She was an integral part of the initial study on public water fluoridation in Michigan in the 1940s when she was working on her master’s in public health.

“Martha was honored at the 50th anniversary of public water fluoridation, one of the top 10 advances in public health in the 20th century.  When she came to Seattle, she worked hard on the campaign for fluoridation here, rounding up all the hygiene students and dental students to [ring] doorbell[s] for the campaign.”

“Martha was larger than life,” Dr. Johnson said. “Those of us who knew her will never forget her.”

Dr. Fales was born in Ludington, Mich., to Mabel and Peters Howard. After she earned her bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene from the University of Michigan, she worked as a hygienist in the Flint, Mich., public schools. She went on to earn a master’s degree and PhD from the University of Michigan. Her doctoral work focused on the history of dental hygiene education.

In 1946 she married Kenneth Frank Fales, whom she had met while working as a field hygienist in Maine. They settled in Connecticut and later Massachusetts, then moved to the Seattle area when her husband was offered a job at Boeing. After living in Bellevue, they moved to the Montlake neighborhood in 1970, which allowed Dr. Fales to walk to the school. Dr. Fales became professor emeritus in 1986, continuing to lecture and act as a proponent of dental education. Her husband passed away in 2006.

Dr. Fales is survived by her daughter, Jane Fales Goldberg, and son-in-law, Larry, of Aberdeen, Washington; four grandchildren, Amy Goldberg Rowley (Scott) of Olympia, Carrie Goldberg of Brooklyn, New York, David Goldberg (JJ) of Seattle, and Lauren Goldberg of Los Angeles, California; and five great-grandchildren.