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Richard Ohrbach - March 2014

Richard Ohrbach, D.D.S., Ph.D., is an associate professor at the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine, Department of Oral Diagnostic Sciences. He earned his D.D.S from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, his certificate in pain management from the University of California – Los Angles, his M.S. and Ph.D. from the University at Buffalo, and he did his post-doc at the University of Washington.

His research activities have included primary roles as collaborating study site principal investigator in four large multi-site studies, and as collaborating investigator with other multi-site and international projects. His activities have included statistical analysis of categorical and multivariate data, interpretation of complex sets of variables from different domains, comprehensive development of self-report instruments for variables associated with pain, development of diagnostic systems, examiner training in multiple settings, and experimental and observational study designs.

His primary focus in recent years has been on developing internationally recognized new diagnostic standards for TMD as well as cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses related to incident cases with TMD, and on physical-psychological interactions relevant to pain disorders. With a team of researchers, he developed the first evidence-based diagnostic criteria to help health professionals better diagnose TMD. The new criteria, supported in part by the National Institutes of Health, comprise an improved screening tool to help researchers and health professionals including dentists more readily differentiate the most common forms of TMD and reach accurate diagnoses that are grounded in supportive scientific evidence.

Ohrbach has been an IADR/AADR member since 1987. From 2003 – 2006, he served as the director of the International RDC/TMD Consortium, which is an IADR Scientific Group/Network that he co-founded.

Why did you decide to go into research?
I was a clinician for many years after dental school. Somehow I got seduced by the area of pain and jaw problems. I think part of it was that what I was taught as a student was clearly very little because not much was known at the time. As a clinician, I began attending continuing education courses regarding TMD. I found that everyone had an opinion regarding the cause and the necessary treatment, and no one’s opinions accorded with one another; years later, I realized that the problem was that no one had any data. I went from a state of excitement because I wanted to learn something about pain and TMD, to deep dismay because I realized that while everyone was necessarily working from the same place of just their own observations, there was no reliable evidence and no generalizability. I decided that I needed to learn about pain disorders in a university setting, so I attended a clinical post-doc and I was working with a psychologist who knew a lot about science and methods, and he knew the pain literature. I was deeply impressed by him and I decided that I needed to do graduate work and learn about science, methods and statistics. While in that master’s program, I became hooked on the process of science, which then lead me to the PhD.

How is your AADR membership helping you move your research forward?
The IADR Neuroscience Research Group is small but it’s very active and it has an amazing group of folks who work very effectively and collaboratively at making a really substantial research contribution to pain and TMD in neuroscience. The scientific sessions at the meeting are very constructive and they have been helpful to my research. It’s interesting for me because my Ph.D. is in clinical psychology and what I do as a clinician in my private practice is pain medicine and psychotherapy. It’s not really a common theme in the dental school setting. Yet, in the IADR and AADR community I find amazing colleagues with whom I have so much in common. It has been the staying factor over the years.

What do you find to be the most valuable benefit of your AADR membership?
My participation in the International RDC/TMD Consortium Network is a valuable part of my membership. The Consortium has been a phenomenally potent organizing structure for the group of us who attend the IADR meetings. We’re focused on methodology, and in the area of pain research, methods are everything. Being able to meet face-to-face with colleagues from around the world, and to visit them in their countries to further the collaboration has all emerged from attending the IADR and AADR meetings. It all comes down to the marvelous colleagues who really value collaboration.

You’ve been successful at obtaining funding for your research. What advice would you offer to a junior investigator to help them find funding?
First, I think it comes down to good mentoring when you’re in your training phase and retaining a mentoring relationship when you finish your training phase because you’re never finished with your education. Mentors may change over the years because your needs may change—be open to that. Mentors are invaluable, and good mentoring relationships can provide a level of nurturing and maturation that can shorten the cycle of professional development—maybe with a mentor you can accomplish in several years what would take you 10 years to accomplish on your own. Second, find really good collaborators, especially a senior scientist with whom you can work. Collaboration with senior scientists and big projects is the wave of the future: the need for bigger impact and more robust studies pushes for multi-site research. Developing the skills to work as one part of a larger, complex research team is critical. Third, I suggest that researchers develop a good relationship with program officers at NIDCR or other institutes at NIH. Find the program officer that fits your research needs; program officers want to be helpful and provide guidance—for both career development and research program development. Program officers can be profoundly helpful if you know how to work with them. 

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