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Physician-Scientist Workforce (PSW) Report 2014

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Chapter 6: Dentist-Scientists

It was at the beginning of the last century that dentists sought to transform a respectable craft into a science-based profession by boldly aligning with institutions of higher learning. Discoveries by dentist-scientists have transformed fields of medicine. For example, in 1952, a dentist-scientist named Norman Simmons designed the techniques for isolating pure DNA that made it possible for Rosalind Franklin to create the first x-ray crystallography images of DNA. This led to the prediction of the structure of DNA by James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins in 1953. In the post-World War II era, dentist Robert Ledley pioneered computerized tomographic scanning and 3-dimensional imaging that led to the development of modern diagnostic imaging for both dentistry and medicine. In the late 1960’s, the work of another dentist-scientist, Russell Ross, and his colleagues advanced our understanding of the molecules involved in wound healing and proved that atherosclerosis is an inflammatory disease.

Dentist-scientists are committed to the development of new therapeutics and therapies for common and rare diseases and disorders that affect craniofacial tissues. Investigators most committed to this field of inquiry will come from the ranks of faculty and students in dental schools across the US. Hence, the training of dentist-scientists and the development of academic faculty with research training are critical components of strengthening the dentist-scientist workforce.