Remembering Maria Pintado
The School of Dentistry mourns the passing of Maria Pintado, associate professor emeritus in the Department of Restorative Sciences and Division of Biomaterials. She passed away peacefully on the evening of April 30, 2021.
The University of Minnesota was a large part of Pintado’s life. After moving to California from Ecuador in high school, she completed an associate of arts degree and a certificate in dental assisting education in 1972.
Pintado’s journey with the School of Dentistry began with her dental education. That’s where she first met Ralph DeLong, DDS, PhD, MS, professor emeritus in the Department of Restorative Sciences who would later become her colleague. “Maria was easily one of the most wonderful people that I have had the pleasure of knowing” DeLong recalled.
Pintado spent more than 40 years teaching and researching at the School of Dentistry, starting in dental assisting in 1972, before transitioning to dental hygiene in 1979 and ultimately transferring to the school’s biomaterials program in 1982. That’s when Bill Douglas, director of the biomaterials program, took her under his wing. “She was a great support to me,” Douglas reflected. “I will always remember her for her selfless giving of her love, time, and effort.”
She taught a wide variety of courses, from oral anatomy and occlusion to biomaterials and expanded functions. Her teaching was revered and respected, so much so that it earned her the Professor of the Year designation in 2008. The award is the school’s highest honor, awarded to one faculty member each year in recognition of outstanding contributions in education, research, and service. She was also one of only a few faculty members to have taught students in all four education programs that existed at that time at the School of Dentistry.
"I will always remember her for her selfless giving of her love, time, and effort." - William H. Douglas, BDS, MS, PhD
“She had such a passionate commitment to excellence, which our students appreciated,” recalled Gary Anderson, DDS, MS, professor of developmental and surgical sciences. “And she always delivered it with humor and compassion."
DeLong called teaching Pintado’s “real passion,” sharing, “She took the time with the students to make sure they mastered the subject - she was so good at it, that she was often given students who were struggling.”
“She became a good friend to many of them and an encouragement to them,” realled Douglas. “Many graduated students would write to her years after they graduated.”
Though she was adored and beloved by students, she didn’t let them off easy. Her colleagues remember her as a tough, determined researcher who got things done. “She was a strict disciplinarian,” explained Douglas, “but with a lot of affection.”
Alex Fok, director of the Minnesota Dental Research Center for Biomaterials and Mechanics (MDRCBB), recalled a sign Pintado kept in her office, with three rules: “Number one: Maria is always right. Number two: the student is always wrong - or something like that,” Fok laughed. “And number three: when Maria seems to be wrong, think twice, then refer to rule number one.”
The “rock” of biomaterials
In addition to her teaching, Pintado was a founding member of the MDRCBB, along with Bill Douglas, PhD, DDS, and Ralph DeLong, PhD, DDS, MS, which produces groundbreaking research with funding from 3M. “She became the heart and soul of the operation,” said Anderson.
“She was always supportive of everyone working in the laboratory, and was active in their research and projects of her own,” DeLong recalled. Those projects included earning her master’s degree in public health.
Sumita Mitra, former corporate scientist at 3M, agreed, calling her the “rock” of the center. “She knew every instrument and knew what everyone was doing,” she said. Mitra recalled seeing Pintado at the MDRCBB every time she needed something or had a question, so much so that Pintado and the center became one in her mind. “It was always seamless.”
“She had such a passionate commitment to excellence, which our students appreciated. And she always delivered it with humor and compassion." - Gary Anderson, DDS, MS.
Pintado adored the MDRCBB, and seemed to know everything about it. “She really had her finger on the pulse,” Mitra recalled. She especially remembered Pintado’s work on an automated toothbrush equipment, as well as the artificial chewing machine that brought the Center so much fame.
And that passion translated into getting things done. Brent Larson, DDS, director of orthodontics, who worked with Pintado in biomaterials and orthodontics, remembered this well. “If you didn’t respond right away, she would be standing in your doorway making sure you got her message.” That persistence inspired Larson to strive to emulate the same passion he saw in her.
Anderson recalled the same persistence and seamless work ethic when they worked together on a longitudinal study of tooth wear. “It was one of the scholarly highlights of my career,” he said. “Everything was carefully scheduled and arranged, and a complex study went off as smoothly as you could imagine. The subjects, dental students, enjoyed themselves as much as we did.
"(Pintado was) the heart of the school. She was there for everyone: faculty, staff, and especially students." - Ralph DeLong, DDS, PhD, MS
Pintado also achieved significant scholarly impact with funding from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research and SmithKline Beecham. She published approximately 40 peer-reviewed articles and has contributed nearly 100 dental abstracts at scientific meetings.
A lasting legacy
Pintado loved the school deeply, and gave back at every opportunity she had. In 2009, she established the Maria R. Pintado Scholarship fund, a need-based endowed fund to support dental students who are interested in public health or community dentistry.
“She was a model of dedication and loyalty to the school,” Larson recalled. “Never wavering or doubting. Always committed. That made it hard for me to do otherwise.”
DeLong called Pintado “the heart of the school.” He continued, “She was there for everyone: faculty, staff, and especially students.”
“Maria was our number one ambassador: for the MDRCBB, the School of Dentistry, and the University of Minnesota,” Anderson said. “She hosted many visitors, including VIPs, when they stopped to see the artificial mouth developed by Drs. Douglas and DeLong. They always got the best show on campus, and left with a new appreciation for who we are.”
Fok agreed. “She only had good things to say about the school, and she was well-known among the dental materials community,” he said. “It’s very unusual these days to have someone who’s dedicated their whole lives to a place the way she did. She always had our welfare in mind.”
Pintado “the heart of the school.” He continued, “She was there for everyone: faculty, staff, and especially students.”
Above all, a colleague and a friend
And though she worked hard, and didn’t have time for nonsense, she is remembered by her colleagues as a supportive and kind friend.
Fok recalled with gratitude how she took him under her wing when he first arrived in Minnesota. “It was a difficult start for me, being the director of MDRCBB, because no one can compare to Bill Douglas,” he said. “But she stuck by me and was very patient, prompting me to do the right thing. She looked after me personally and professionally.”
“She was such a pleasant person,” Mitra recalled. “You could always sit and talk with her about life. She was a good friend to talk to.”
Said Douglas, “I will remember her for her support of our program identity within a competitive environment. She was short of stature but huge in spirit and in service to others.”
DeLong said she was the best friend he could have asked for, for over forty years. “She will be missed, and she cannot be replaced.”
“For me, I’ll always remember Maria stopping by every few weeks when I was dean,” Anderson recalled. “Every time, she would ask me, ‘how are you doing?’ at a time when I should have been asking her. My friend, Maria Pintado.”