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David C. Johnsen - September 2014

David C. Johnsen, D.D.S., M.S., is dean and a professor at the University of Iowa, College of Dentistry and Dental Clinics, Department of Pediatric Dentistry. Johnsen received his D.D.S. degree from the University of Michigan in 1970 and his M.S. in pediatric dentistry from the University of Iowa in 1973. He became board certified in pediatric dentistry in 1978. 

Johnsen served on the faculty of West Virginia University from 1974-1980, where he taught predoctoral pediatric dentistry. There, he received the Outstanding Teacher Award in 1976. In 1980 he joined Case Western Reserve University, where he continued teaching predoctoral pediatric dentistry. He remained on the faculty until 1995, serving as a department chair, intermittently as director of the residency program, and as interim dean in 1993. From there he moved to the University of Iowa, where he has been the dean of the College of Dentistry since 1995. 

His university service at the University of Iowa has included chairing the search committee for the CEO of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in 2002; being co-convener of the Health Sciences Policy Council from 2003-04; co-chairing the University Task Force on Clinical and Translational Research in 2005-06; being the chair of the nursing dean search in 2006; and serving as chair of the university presidential search in 2007.

Johnsen’s research has focused on innervation of teeth as an indicator of capacity to transmit pain sensory impulses and also on caries patterns in preschoolers. The latter area included demonstration projects and consulting at the national level in the Women and Infant Clinics (WIC) and the Head Start programs. He has also published on a variety of clinical and educational topics.

Johnsen has been an active AADR member since 1973 and has served as the chair of the AADR Government Affairs Committee since 2011.

How did you first learn about AADR?
I first learned about AADR while I was a student at the University of Michigan, through my dental histology professor Jim Avery, who later became an IADR president (1974-75). After that I did pediatrics at the University of Iowa where another future IADR president, Stephen Wei (1993-94), was one of my professors. From early on I knew about the importance of IADR and AADR because those two mentors were members and they explained to me why I should be involved. At the encouragement of Jim Avery, I made my first presentation at an IADR meeting in 1970 and I’ve attended nearly every meeting since then. Thanks to my mentors I was indoctrinated into IADR/AADR early on in my career! 

Describe your first time presenting at an IADR/AADR meeting.
I was a student the first time I presented at a meeting. I’m not sure how many students presented from my school that year but it was with the coaching of my mentor Jim Avery that I had the ability to present my research. He showed me how to structure my presentation—we practiced it together and he would ask questions to allow me to rehearse my answers. I still recall the experience of presenting my research at the meeting and getting questions from famous researchers in the room. I was honored that these famous researchers I had read about were there and they liked my presentation. It was definitely a valuable experience and one I’ll never forget. 

What do you find to be the most valuable benefit of AADR membership?
One of the most valuable benefits of my AADR membership is being part of the AADR network, in addition to the advocacy the Association provides. AADR, with IADR, is the touchstone for dental research, and AADR is the place I turn for gathering with other dental researchers and people in the field. When I was just becoming involved in AADR and doing my research in Jim Avery’s lab, I really became hooked on research when he introduced me to the AADR environment. It wasn’t just the intellectual stimulation that I enjoyed but also the IADR/AADR members from all over the world who would visit the lab. I realized early on that I had never been around a group like that and I found them really enthralling. I’m proud to be part of this group that I found so enthralling as a junior researcher. I’m also fortunate that my institution supported my efforts to be involved in AADR because there isn’t a better place for meeting with other researchers and learning about dental research.

What is one of the best ways for other AADR members to become more involved in the Association’s advocacy efforts?
When I’m in DC I always stop in Senator Tom Harkin’s office to meet with him. There’s value in meeting with your representatives in person. However, if you’re not able to meet with them, send them a letter. It’s critical that we explain to them the importance of biomedical research and we need to explain how our research impacts the health of the public. It’s up to us to share our stories with representatives and policymakers because no one else can. Years ago, when then NIH Director Francis Collins visited the NIDCR Advisory Group, I asked him how we could help. Without hesitation he said “Get your elected officials into your institutions to see the great work you are doing!” A year later at the NIDCR Advisory Group meeting when we were asked how many of us tried to get our elected officials to visit our institutions, only a few hands went up. As a dean I think that it’s important to get more dental deans involved collectively to get dental research supported. I think we’re going to have a real battle to maintain the level of support that we’ve had. Higher education has become a lot tighter and we do have to subsidize research. To keep that going, I think it’s going to take the grassroots of the dental deans, too. 

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