09. July 2021

Obituary for Prof. Dr. Dr. h. c. mult. Walter Künzel


ORCA and Germany have lost an experienced promoter of cariology and paediatric dentistry


Walter Künzel


On the 3rd of April 2021 our long-standing member Prof. Dr. Dr. h. c. mult. Walter Künzel passed away at the age of 92 years. Walter Künzel was the founding father of paediatric dentistry, prevention and cariology in Germany and he is one of the few dental professional with an own Wikipedia article (https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Künzel). He was lucky to be only 17 years of age at the end of the World War II which saved him from major political or war activities. Starting a career in a destroyed Europe at the end of the World War II had major difficulties, but also the chance for change; Walter Künzel saw and pursued those opportunities extremely successfully. Being born in Königsgrätz/Bohemia, he had to move into the new German borders which meant studying in East Berlin. After graduation, he stayed at the Humboldt University and – instead of following the tradition of technical dentistry – he started to concentrate on preventive approaches, especially in children. Following the success of water fluoridation in the US and the centralistic approach of a socialist country, he started a series of studies on implementing caries prevention on a population level via water fluoridation starting in Karl-Marx-Stadt/Chemnitz already in 1959 followed by long-term epidemiologic surveys. It was an incredible achievement to initiate a nation-wide preventive programme in post-war East Germany. Together with Thomas Marthaler, Klaus König and many others, he was an ORCA pioneer in the field of caries prevention and systematic international research and standards. Very quickly he finished his “habilitation” in Berlin in 1962, was promoted to a lecturer and he was awarded a full professorship and head of Department for Restorative Dentistry at the University of Leipzig in 1964. His heart was beating for paediatric dentistry, and especially for the promotion of healthy teeth on a national level. He was able to initiate the specialization in paediatric dentistry which led to the foundation of departments for paediatric dentistry at all universities in East Germany. Thus, he was also the founding president of the (East) German Society for Paediatric Dentistry already in 1969, while in the much more affluent West Germany, paediatric dentistry was never a structured specialization, and only a working group within restorative dentistry.

Walter Künzel was also the leading figure to internationalization of the dental sciences in the GDR (German Democratic Republic/socialist East Germany). In spite of working in a heavily controlled, authoritarian socialist country with limited resources, he managed to be a stronghold for ORCA, starting at the advisory board in 1967, with a congress in 1972 in Leipzig and 1981 in Erfurt, be ORCA president in 1980 and 1981 as well as initiating an exchange programme with John Arnold Weatherell/Leed University across the iron curtain. Since 1973 he was an appointed member of a WHO expert group and Director of the Erfurt WHO Collaborative Center "Prevention of Oral Diseases" between 1983 and 1997.

These highly professional endeavours resulted in the first German chair and head of the Department for Preventive Dentistry at the Medical Academie Erfurt (MAE). In spite of the many cooperations with socialistic state officials, his high personal integrity was proven as he remained director of this department even after the democratic revolution in East German and was the first freely elected rector of the whole MAE until 1993. He also embraced German unification and worked actively in establishing the high international standards in cariology, preventive and pediatric dentistry for all Germany. The East German expertise led to the compulsory introduction of paediatric dentistry into the undergraduate curriculum also in West German universities after unification.

Thus, ORCA and Germany have lost an outstanding innovator and facilitator for a professional, international, science- and community-based approach in cariology. Our hearts are with his wife, family and friends.

Christian Splieth on behalf of the ORCA board and the whole ORCA family



22. November 2020

Obituary for Prof. Dr. Thomas Marthaler

ORCA has lost one of its pioneers

Thomas Marthaler









On 13th of November 2020 our long-standing Swiss member Prof. Dr. Thomas Marthaler passed away at the age of 91 years. From very early on, Tomi Marthaler, as many friends called him, took an international and scientific approach to dentistry, spending the year after his graduation in the USA. Back in Switzerland, he combined working in the family practice with scientific work at the University of Zurich. Like many other pioneers in cariology, he was driven by the question of how to prevent the enormous burden of dental caries in many highly developed countries, instead of treating the damage caries caused. Switzerland was definitely a prime place for this in the 1950s, when ORCA was also founded.

Very systematically, Professor Marthaler found partners in the Swiss School Dental Services, developed a sound epidemiological base and analysed the influence of dietary factors in the process of caries which was not fully understood at that time. The great breakthrough occurred when many researchers concentrated on the caries-preventive effect of fluorides, which was one of the founding topics of ORCA. Thomas Marthaler examined the properties of amine fluorides and played an important role their regular application in Swiss schools. This very simple, but systematic approach led to an incredible caries decline of over 90% and it was an outstanding success for caries research with its epidemiologic, basic science and community dentistry branches. Thus Thomas Marthaler set an example for young researchers and caries prevention in many other countries. Modern caries prevention improved the quality of life of whole populations and countries and Thomas Marthaler helped to make this possible.  ORCA acknowledged these achievements by awarding him the Junior Rolex Prize in 1966. He was part of the international ORCA family presenting their current research at the annual conferences and enriching the evening event with a group of very vocal entertainers.

In Switzerland the outstanding achievements were rewarded with an “Außerordentliche Professur”  meaning an “extraordinary” Professorship for Oral Epidemiology and Preventive Dentistry at the University of Zurich.  In a network with other colleagues such as Hans Mühlemann, Klaus König, who was actually called his preventive twin brother, and Klaus Rateitschak Zurich became one of the leading centres for preventive and biologically-based dentistry, both in cariology and periodontology. They developed the idea and regulations for labelling sweets as “tooth-friendly”, a logo used in many countries. He was also involved in spreading the idea of fluoridated salt as a population-wide preventive approach. Very quickly, his endeavours became a benchmark for other activities in caries prevention, he initiated international comparison for the caries decline published in Caries Research and he also served as adviser to WHO and the American CDC. In appreciation, he became an Honorary Member of ORCA after his retirement.  

Thus, ORCA has lost a true member and example for scientific and humanitarian engagement in cariology. Our hearts are with his family and friends.

Christian Splieth on behalf of the ORCA board and the whole ORCA family