LSU Health New Orleans Newsroom

The Circle of Life

Henry A. Gremillion, DDS, MAGD

Henry Gremillion with his father and sister

Who knew that a baby in an orphanage in a sleepy, rural, one-traffic-light Louisiana town would one day chair the board of directors of the sole national organization representing academic dentistry.

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Dr. Gremillion at ADEA Annual Meeting

LSU Health New Orleans’ Gremillion Elected Chair of National Dental Board
“At age seven months I was adopted from an orphanage in north Louisiana and raised with my adopted sister in a small Louisiana farming community with a population of 2,000 people, most of whom were related,” Henry Gremillion, DDS, MAGD, told his colleagues as he was being installed as Chair of the American Dental Education Association’s Board of Directors in Chicago. “Cottonport is located in the middle of the state; however you would have to be lost to get there. We actually had two red lights, but only one ever worked. My high school graduating class was composed of 45 students – 23 girls and 22 boys. I can't imagine being so blessed to have such loving and supportive parents and such a special sister.”

Young Henry Gremillion thought his career path was set, but instead, he heeded the wise counsel of a beloved relative.

Henry Gremillion with his parents
Henry Gremillion high school graduation
“I will always remember when as a junior in high school talking to my uncle, a successful pharmacist whom I greatly admired, about my desire to follow in his footsteps,” Dr. Gremillion recalled. “He told me that while pharmacy had been a great profession for him, he envisioned that the environment would change and small pharmacies would be replaced by corporate-owned enterprises and that I should consider dentistry. He suggested that I spend time in the dentist's office, which was located in his building. That was a major redirection of my pathway – toward the pursuit of a career in dentistry.”
After Gremillion graduated from LSU Health New Orleans School of Dentistry in 1977, he returned home to set up a general practice.

He saw patients from all walks of life – his neighbors, children in the Head Start Program, members of the Tunica-Biloxi Indian Tribe and nursing home residents.

young Dr. Gremillion treating patients
Henry Gremillion at the Cotton Queen
His service to his community went far beyond taking care of their oral health. Gremillion was a member of the School Board and a volunteer firefighter. He entered politics, successfully running for City Council to implement community fluoridation and move forward with reapportionment to address the disparity in representation. His many contributions were publicly recognized when he was named 1989 Cottonport Citizen of the Year.

“During that time, I also became a continuing education junkie recognizing very quickly that dental school only provided an educational base on which it was my responsibility to build,” Gremillion remembered.

The quest to learn more to improve the quality of life for his patients led to a two-year craniofacial pain fellowship at the University of Florida College of Dentistry.
“I thought it would be a stepping stone to a return to private practice back home in Louisiana,” said Gremillion. “I couldn't have been more wrong as it provided for my pathway into academics almost 30 years ago. What a blessing that has been.”

Rising through the academic ranks, Gremillion was named the Parker E. Mahan Endowed Professor of Orofacial Pain in the Department of Orthodontics and was a member of the dental staff of Shands Teaching Hospital. He also served as the director of the UFCD Parker Mahan Facial Pain Center and its fellowship program in craniomandibular dysfunction.

Along the way, Gremillion earned distinguished honors. In 2009, the Academy of General Dentistry honored him with the Thaddeus V. Weclew award for his ‘exceptional contributions to the art and science of dentistry and for promoting the principles and ideals of the academy.’ He received the Dawson Academy Distinguished Service Award in 2009, the American Academy of Orofacial Pain Distinguished Service Award in 2010, and the Pierre Fauchard Academy Gold Medal Award in 2015. Presented annually to a dentist in the United States who has ‘made outstanding contributions to the progress and standing of the dental profession,’ it is one of the international dental honor organization’s most prestigious and exclusive awards.
the Gremillions with the Academy of General Dentistry award
Dr. Henry Gremillion at LSU Health graduation
“We have all heard the term ‘the circle of life,’ Gremillion noted. “I have experienced two most special examples of this phenomenon. The first was the tremendous opportunity to return to my dental alma mater, LSU Health New Orleans School of Dentistry in October 2008, to serve as dean. The chance to come back home and be part of a very special family of faculty, staff, and students as well as a wonderfully vibrant community has been an experience that I will always cherish and feel most blessed for the opportunity.”

Gremillion is the sixth dean of the school and the only alumnus to ever hold the position.

“The second was most unexpected and tremendously impactful,” continued Gremillion. “On a beautiful October Sunday afternoon in 2017, while working on a lecture for my anatomy class the next day, I received an e-mail through which simply said ‘first cousin.’ Since it came from the company known for helping answer, ‘who are you and where did you come from,’ it was clear that this was not a hoax. It was a connection with my birth family who I had never met at age 66. This is a special blessing that has been unbelievably life-changing and truly completes the circle.”