40-year teacher

Cyril Gaum mentored hundreds of Tufts dental students

Funeral services were held in Sydney, Nova Scotia, on March 6 for Dr. Cyril Gaum, a noted endodontist who combined private practice with a 40-year teaching career at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine. He died on March 2 in Stuart, Fla., of complications from a stroke he had suffered two weeks earlier. He was 84.

Dr. Cyril Gaum

Born in Sydney on Cape Breton on January 13, 1923, Gaum earned his dental degree from Dalhousie University in Halifax in 1948. He practiced in Sydney before he and his wife, Esther, moved to Boston, where he resided for nearly 50 years. Gaum became the first formally trained endodontist in New England in 1960, when he earned a certificate in endodontics from Boston University. In 1964, he co-founded a specialty group practice, Limited to Endodontics Inc., which has grown from three endodontists in one location to 19 endodontists practicing in six locations. His professional and personal styles were characterized by integrity, empathy and generosity.

“His word was his bond. If he shook your hand and looked you in the eye—enough said, and you could take it to the grave,” Dr. Vangel R. Zissi, D62, DG67, clinical professor of endodontics and a partner in Limited to Endodontics, told The Boston Globe.

During the 47 years that Gaum devoted to endodontics, he taught undergraduate and postgraduate dental students, conducted research, wrote for professional journals and textbooks and lectured around the world. He chaired Tufts’ Department of Endodontics in the 1970s, and when he retired in 1990, he was named clinical professor of endodontics emeritus. His advice to his students was simple and straightforward: “Put yourself in the chair. You be the patient. How do you want the doctor to treat you? Those were classic Gaumisms,” Zissi told the Globe. Gaum derived great pleasure from the success of his students, several of whom joined him in private practice, while others became lifelong colleagues and cherished friends.

He was a diplomate of the American Board of Endodontics and served as president of the American Academy of Dental Science, the Greater Boston Endodontic Study Club and the Cape Breton Dental Society. He was a councilman and regent of the International College of Dentists, which presented him with its District One Distinguished Fellow Award in 2005.

He chaired fund-raising campaigns for Dalhousie’s new dental school in 1958 and for Tufts’ Arthur A. Pearson Memorial Endodontic Suite in 1975. Tufts dedicated the Dr. Cyril Gaum Endodontic Clinic in his honor in 1991, and presented him with the dental school’s Distinguished Alumnus Award the following year. In 1995, he was inducted into the Canadian Academy of Endodontics Hall of Fame.

Outside of dentistry, Gaum’s passion was breeding and showing American Quarter Horses, and he often took riding vacations in Texas.

He is survived by his wife, Esther (Hamburg) Gaum, two sisters and many nieces and nephews. The family asks that memorial donations be made to the Dr. Cyril Gaum Endodontic Clinic Fund, Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, 136 Harrison Ave., Boston, MA 02111 or to the charity of the donor’s choice.

This story ran in the Tufts Journal in April 2007.