Edward Bert Seldin

Dr. Edward Bert Seldin

Associate Professor of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
Edward Bert Seldin

Born into a New York City family that spawned 13 dentists in two generations, Dr. Ed Seldin euphemistically claims to have drifted into dentistry on a strong familial tide, having, as a youth, taken little personal responsibility for discovering the range of activities that adults engage in to give expression to their talents and to earn a living (other than dentistry). Dr. Seldin studied biology at Tufts University, in Medford, Mass. (BS, magna cum laude, 1964), and thought that he had made good his escape from the family preoccupation with dentistry. In retrospect, even as an undergraduate biology major, he sees himself as spiraling around the rim of a vortex leading inexorably to a career in dentistry.

By a "fantastic stroke of good fortune", Dr. Seldin was assigned to take the DAT at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, the examination being proctored by the charismatic acting dean, J. Howard Oakes, under whose spell Dr. Seldin claims to have instantly fallen. Subsequently, as an HSDM student subject to a research requirement, Dr. Seldin received an extraordinary invitation for a summer research fellowship with Harvard Professor George Wald at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. This memorable experience encompassed a year in the Harvard Biolabs and three summers at MBL, studying special sensory physiology (visual systems) in marine invertebrates. By chance, it also bracketed the time in which Dr. Wald was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology for his earlier work, elucidating the role of vitamin A in visual excitation. While working in Dr. Wald's laboratory, and writing a number of scientific papers, Dr. Seldin made the important personal discovery that the challenge of designing and building the special apparatus that makes it possible to conduct biological experiments can be just as exciting as the experiments themselves. This was Dr. Seldin's introduction to the world of biomedical engineering.

One of the first group of residents to complete the double degree training program in oral and maxillofacial surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Dr. Seldin subsequently served for 34 years as the oral and maxillofacial surgeon in the Medical Department of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A senior lecturer in mechanical engineering at MIT, for 14 years, he has taught a freshman advising seminar entitled "Mechanical Devices". Dr. Seldin has played a central role in advising premedical and predental students as chair of MIT's Pre-health Council. He has intercurrently been on the staff of MGH for 41 years, to date.

Dr. Seldin is working on his eighth and ninth patents, drawing on the facilities of MGH and the "Elm Street Iron Works" in Cambridge, Mass. Several prior patents he holds are relevant to surgery, but others are for toys, puzzles, and mechanical construction systems. His bibliography, currently with 27 original reports, is heavily weighted toward unique technical solutions for problems in surgery, but some of his writing has had to do with anomalies in health care attributable to the historical accident whereby medicine and dentistry became separate educational realms.

Dr. Seldin sees much of his adult life as consisting of a protracted effort to reconcile and integrate strong outside interests-art, architecture, and engineering-with the world of surgery. Although philosophically a therapeutic minimalist, Dr. Seldin is passionate about patient care and considers that outside interests help to inform and enrich care both directly and indirectly.

An important life lesson: "Learning to partner with individuals possessing skills and motivations that I lack has made it possible to complete projects that might have languished for want of proper attention. Learning to remain comfortable in the presence of individuals a lot more talented than I am is a skill that I have been honing with help from students at HSDM and MIT.

Fields of Interest

Dr. Seldin's interests include impacted teeth, OMFS care of medically compromised patients, premedical and predental mentoring, architecture, history of technology, Stirling cycle heat engine design, and anomalies in health care attributable to the separation of medicine and dentistry into separate educational realms".

Department or Program

Alphabetical listing