Top Periodontal Researcher Takes ADA Gold Medal



With more than 400 publications that have been cited more than 12,000 times, Dr. Steven Offenbacher has had a profound influence on periodontal research. In particular, he is known as the first researcher to connect periodontal and systemic health. In recognition of these achievements, the ADA has honored Dr. Offenbacher with the 2015 Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Dental Research.

“It has always been a dream of mine to champion the message that dentistry is connected to the rest of the body and to the field of medicine. And this award acknowledges how important periodontics is to the overall health of our patients,” Dr. Offenbacher said. “As a practicing periodontist, I am gratified to see that this body of research has elevated the importance of dentistry in the practice of medicine and in public health.”

Dr. Offenbacher is the chair of the department of periodontology and the director of the Center for Oral and Systemic Diseases at the University of North Carolina (UNC), as well as director of UNC’s General and Oral Health Center. The ADA cited Dr. Offenbacher’s multidisciplinary, collaborative approach to research that engages disciplines outside of dentistry.

“Impactful research requires the support of many dedicated and talented collaborators. Now more than ever, science is a team sport and our research connecting oral disease with systemic conditions would never have been possible without the encouragement, direct contribution, and hard work of many of my friends and colleagues,” Dr. Offenbacher said, acknowledging work from fellow researchers in cardiology, obstetrics, neonatology, nephrology, and neurology.

“I have deeply admired Dr. Offenbacher and his research throughout my career,” said ADA president Maxine Feinberg. “His work on the oral-systemic health connection was game-changing. So much of what we’re discussing at the ADA today about collaboration with other health care providers is directly related to his work. His work proved what dentists knew anecdotally for generations.”

Dr. Offenbacher’s studies have examined the genetic microbial and inflammatory components associated with periodontal disease. He has explored the connections between periodontal disease and adverse pregnancy outcomes, cardiovascular disease, stroke interventions, and autism. Also, he and his team have studied oxidative stress and IgG antibodies, synergiistetes and cyclopeptides, and the insulin responses of genes in different stages of periodontal disease, among many other subjects.

In fact, the Surgeon General of the United States included some of these discoveries in the office’s first and only report on oral health in 2000. Dr. Offenbacher has received millions of dollars in grant funding. And, he and his team have received 8 patents. As the Gold Award recipient, he will serve a 3-year term on the ADA Council on Scientific Affairs and receive $25,000. Church & Dwight is sponsoring the award along with the ADA.

“He is an outstanding scientist, educator, mentor, and still practices dentistry,” said Tim Seitter, vice president of oral care business at Church & Dwight. “It is an absolute privilege for Church & Dwight to honor the distinguished career of Dr. Offenbacher.”

Indeed, Dr. Offenbacher’s work as a professor also has been influential, as his students have gone on to earn significant recognition of their own including the American Academy of Periodontology Educator Scholarship Award. Dr. Jane Weintraub, dean and alumni distinguished professor at UNC, noted his work as an educator and a mentor in nominating him for the Gold Award and said that he put the school “on the map” for showing the connections between oral and systemic health.

“He is able to communicate his complex work in an easy to understand fashion that makes him a great educator whether talking to his peer scientists or a lay audience,” Dr. Weintraub wrote in her nomination letter.

“I have a personal passion for dental research and the personal training of young dental scientists,” said Dr. Offenbacher, who still practices once a week at UNC while continuing to research  the genetic basis of periodontal disease and its basic mechanisms to understand why some patients are at high risk for it and for systemic problems.  “UNC and Dean Weintraub have provided a supportive environment that has afforded me the luxury and the opportunity to forge my own path and develop a network of collaborators as well as build a world class department of periodontology.”

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