A Life Dedicated to Patients with Special Health Care Needs

It was 1993. Flipping through the Star-Ledger, the then-dean of Rutgers School of Dental Medicine (RSDM) saw a story. It was about two dentist partners, Robert Kroll and Justin Stone. And their booming operation serving patients with special health care needs at St. Mary's Hospital was closing due to finances. The dean saw an opportunity.

“He made us an offer we couldn't refuse,” said Stone. The duo was invited to bring their talent to RSDM and launch a clinic solely devoted to treating patients with special health care needs. In addition, they’d train students.

Robert Kroll, Chelsea Fosse, Justin Stone
From left, Robert Kroll, Chelsea Fosse '17, the inaugural recipient of the Justin H. Stone and Robert G. Kroll Endowed Scholarship, and Justin Stone.

That laid the foundation for RSDM’s Delta Dental of New Jersey Special Care Treatment Center. “RSDM really was on the forefront with not only treating patients with special health care needs but also educating students,” said Glenn Rosivack, chair of the Pediatric Dentistry Department. The dental accreditation body, CODA, just recently began requiring this kind of training. Rosivack added: “There is an incredible need for dental treatment for patients with special health care needs, and we receive referrals from the tri-state area. We’re one of the only sites that provides that type of treatment.” Last fiscal year, the Center provided care to 2,300 patients. While this work has been continuing, RSDM mourns the loss of Kroll, who passed away on Sept. 19. He was 99.

“Bob packed considerably more than a century’s worth of living into the almost 100 years he completed,” said his obituary. Kroll was a faculty member at RSDM from 1994 to 1998. Besides being a dedicated dentist and educator, he was a pilot building a plane in his basement, an athlete, a writer, and a poet.  

Born in 1924 in Paterson, NJ, Kroll obtained his dental degree from the University of Minnesota. He served in the military during World War II and the Korean War, practiced privately, and did a two-year general anesthesia program at Newark City Hospital, where he met Stone. The two became not only lifelong business partners but also friends. Bob and I were practically joined at the hip,” said Stone. “We did everything together.”

The duo opened a practice together to treat people afraid of dentists. But soon, they began getting patients who needed special care treatment, stirring their practice in an unexpected direction. “Gradually, people really started to depend on us,” said Stone. “There was no one else in the northeast—and I don’t mean northeast New Jersey, I mean northeast United States—doing what we were doing. … We were also getting patients from all over the world—Arabia, Venezuela.”

Then they transitioned from having private practice to working at St. Mary's Hospital and then to joining RSDM.

At RSDM, students called Kroll “Doctor Whisper” because of his quiet demeanor. But to Stone, he was “Doctor Straight Arrow.” “He never compromised on anything. He required everybody, the assistants, everybody, to be above the line. Always ethical, always straight arrow,” said Stone. He was the nicest person you'd ever meet.”

The partners never turned anyone away for lack of means and developed unique ways to treat patients. Kroll, for instance, used hypnosis on an eight-year-old patient with a ventricular septal defect and did a full mouth restoration without putting her to sleep. While others would restrain or strap frightened kids to papoose boards, the two found a compassionate way to put kids to sleep while they were hugged by their mothers. “We got a reputation for being so gentle,” said Stone. As a tribute to them and their work, to this day, dental instruments sent to sterilization from the Center are still marked “K/S.”

Moreover, in 2017, RSDM, together with The Atlantic Philanthropies, created the Justin H. Stone and Robert G. Kroll Endowed Scholarship to recognize Kroll and Stone’s efforts. The annual scholarship is awarded to one student, and 16 students so far have benefitted from this opportunity.

“We never expected anything like that,” said Stone. “I'm very proud of Bob. I miss him.”