JGH Dental Clinic to be named in honour of Dr. Mervyn Gornitsky

Dr. Mervyn Gornitsky
Dr. Mervyn Gornitsky

Major recognition for former Chief who was Montreal’s first oral surgeon

If you’ve received a dental implant in Montreal sometime in the past 35 years, you can thank Dr. Mervyn Gornitsky for helping to make it possible.

If you’ve had a tooth extracted at the JGH despite the potential complications of oral cancer or HIV/AIDS, chances are the procedure relied on techniques that Dr. Gornitsky was instrumental in developing.

If you’re counting on researchers to steer us through the COVID-19 pandemic, a key role will most likely be played by Canada’s largest saliva biobank, which Dr. Gornitsky was pivotal in establishing at the JGH.

Given these and other accomplishments, plus the fact that Dr. Gornitsky celebrated his landmark 90th birthday in 2020, the JGH Dental Clinic has been renamed in his honour. The change became official on December 16, with the installation of a plaque.

In 1971, Dr. Mervyn Gornitsky’s appointment as Chief of the Department of Dentistry was announced in JGH News
In 1971, Dr. Mervyn Gornitsky’s appointment as Chief of the Department of Dentistry was announced in JGH News

“This is such a wonderful gesture,” says Dr. Gornitsky, who served as JGH Chief of Dentistry from 1971 to 1998 and now holds the title of Emeritus Chief of the department. “I’m so proud of this legacy. I spent a good part of my life developing the department.”

McGill University’s Faculty of Dentistry has also recognized Dr. Gornitsky’s life-long contribution, naming him an Emeritus Professor in 2002. However, the JGH is where he really made his presence felt, with patients benefiting both from his expertise and his longevity as a member of the department since 1957.

Dr. Gornitsky has devoted himself primarily to research since 2006, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, he has continued his involvement in teaching Ph.D. and Master’s students.

In addition, he uses Zoom to speak with patients who have been referred to him by the JGH Department of Oto-Rhino-Laryngology.

“I’m on Zoom about 10 to 12 hours a week, so I guess you could say I’m living life in the fast lane,” he says with laugh. “As a 90-year-old guy, I’ve never experienced anything like this before, but it’s not something I feel uncomfortable with at all.”

The changes that Dr. Gornitsky has witnessed in more than six decades have been enormous. For example, when he began his private practice as an oral surgeon in 1956, his specialty was almost unknown in Canada. Having trained in New York, he became the first oral surgeon in Montreal to be certified by the American Society of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons.

When he joined the JGH a year later, the hospital had not yet begun its ambitious, multi-decade series of expansions. That’s why it felt to him like a small community facility with only 250 to 300 beds, compared to 634 today.

It was not until 1975, four years after Dr. Gornitsky was appointed Chief of his department, that the JGH became affiliated with McGill. This milestone helped broaden the hospital’s horizons and greatly expand its teaching activities.

Dr. Gornitsky recalls taking a seven-person group of JGH clinicians to Sweden in 1984, where they learned the new technique of surgically placing a dental implant into the jawbone to serve as the strong and durable root of an artificial tooth.

During the 1980s, the JGH also had one of the few dental departments in Quebec hospitals that treated HIV/AIDS patients, with Dr. Gornitsky having personally treated about 2,000 people, using techniques that he helped adapt for this purpose.

Throughout his career, Dr. Gornitsky has also travelled around the world to speak to colleagues about his work, and he has authored or co-authored dozens of articles for journals in his field.

“The key is to stay interested, stay curious and be open to new ideas,” he says. “It’s what has made my many decades of work so fulfilling.”

Read the full article on Dr. Gornitsky in JGH News.