Our specialty lost a major contributor to clinical orthodontics and craniofacial biology with the passing of Dr Henri Petit in Nantes, France, at 87 years of age. His application of the facial mask to Class III patients is the primary protocol used today for the treatment of such patients throughout the world. Dr Petit modified the facial mask used by his mentor, surgeon Jean Delaire, to a design that is now used routinely to treat young patients with Class III malocclusion or, as Henri would say, the “prognathic syndrome.”
Dr Petit received a dental certificate from the University of Paris in 1952 and practiced orthodontics in both Nantes and Paris. Later in life, he moved to the United States with his family and completed a doctorate in anatomy at Baylor University in Waco, Tex. He joined the faculty of the Department of Orthodontics at Baylor College of Dentistry in Dallas in 1980 and became an international member of the American Association of Orthodontists. Dr Petit lectured widely on his orthopedic facial mask therapy, remaining on the Baylor faculty until 1987, when he and his wife Josette moved back to Paris. Henri retired in 1995.
I remember well the first time Henri and I met; it was in 1981. I was giving a continuing education course to the Baylor alumni and residents. Dr Moody Alexander, the chair of the department, asked me whether one of his new faculty members could make a presentation of his research work during my course. I agreed and was delighted by the opportunity to hear Henri present his material on the facial mask. It made so much sense to me that I immediately starting using his approach in my young Class III patients. I was amazed with the results.
Henri subsequently joined us several times at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. His most memorable visit was when he presented his material, entitled “Clinical alteration of the growing face,” at the 1982 Moyers Symposium. His chapter in the ensuing monograph, published in 1983, is still cited as one of the best summaries of his work in English.
In a letter from his family, we learned that Dr Petit died of a heart attack on September 29, 2015. They wrote that Henri had developed numerous physical problems, but his mind remained clear and focused. His interest in orthodontics and his love of music remained intact. Henri was a big, happy, dynamic, warm, and lovable Frenchman who had, and will continue to have, a major impact on the lives of millions of orthodontic patients worldwide. We mourn his passing, but rejoice that he contributed so much to the lives of so many.