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Eric Schiffman - June 2014

Eric Schiffman D.D.S., M.S. is an associate professor and director of the Division of TMD and Orofacial Pain at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry. He is also a co-owner of and practices at the Minnesota Head and Neck Pain Clinic, which is a multi-disciplinary pain clinic with four locations in the Twin Cities.

In 1982, he received his dental degree from the University of Iowa School of Dentistry. In 1983 he completed a general practice residency at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he was trained to do general dentistry on medically-compromised patients and saw patients with orofacial trauma in the emergency room setting. He was then the first resident to complete the two-year TMD and Orofacial Pain Residency Program at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry in 1985; and concurrently, obtained a Master of Science in Oral Biology in 1986. He is a diplomate of the American Board of Orofacial Pain.

Schiffman has received more than $12 million in NIH/NIDCR funding. His research interests include developing validated diagnostic criteria for the most common temporomandibular disorders (TMD), including disorders involving the temporomandibular joint. He has also completed numerous randomized clinical trials (RCT) investigating the relative effectiveness of home-based self-care as compared to jaw exercises and medications. He also completed an RCT with a five-year follow-up assessing the relative effectiveness on non-surgical and surgical treatments for advanced TMJ pathology. This research found that surgery is rarely needed to treat even advanced TMJ disorders.

He is the principal investigator of a $3.7 million project titled “TMJ Intra-Articular Disorders: Impact on Pain, Functioning and Disability.” The primary aim of this multi-site study is to determine whether progression of TMJ intra-articular disorders (disc displacements and degenerative joint disease) is associated with the primary patient-reported outcomes of jaw pain, jaw functional limitation and disability at nine year follow-up. In this study, subjects were recalled from his prior research project titled “Research Diagnostic Criteria: Reliability and Validity.” The findings in the latter study were used to develop new validated diagnostic criteria for the most common TMD that can be used in both the clinical and research settings.

Schiffman has been an AADR member since 2009.

How did you first get involved with AADR?
I ran across IADR/AADR through the Journal of Dental Research. In reading the JDR, I realized that IADR/AADR were striving for high-level science through the Journal and I still think they’re achieving that. What really made me want to be part of the Associations was that they had great meetings where I could interact with peers and colleagues.

As a clinician scientist, describe the value in attending AADR meetings and presenting your research.
Over the years, through being part of IADR/AADR and attending the meetings I’ve been able to establish a network of friends and colleagues who are interested in my same area of science. Orofacial pain is a small area and we all know each other. By attending the meetings I’m able to present my research and have it critiqued better than I would anywhere else, which has allowed me to present myself better in public and to also have a more critical view of what I read and what I do. I must add that I’ve been credited with doing a lot of good research but the reality is I wouldn’t be anywhere if I didn’t have a great team of people working with me. The papers and research that I do exceed my intelligence and knowledge because I surround myself with people who make up for my lack of expertise in different areas. In surrounding myself by these individuals, we get a good product. I’m the conductor but if the orchestra wasn’t there, there wouldn’t be any music. 

What do you find to be the most valuable benefit of your AADR membership?
One of the most important benefits of being an AADR member is that it allows me to be part of the total voice of dentistry. It’s important for us to remember that NIH is supported by Congress. We need AADR to be there to help educate Congress that dental research is critical to the total health of the population. We need to make sure that Congress understands that we’re part of the whole body and that we need to be funded by NIH/NIDCR. I think AADR does a great job communicating that message.  

What is the best way for newer AADR members to get involved in the Association and maximize their membership experience?
Being involved in the governance structure is one way for people to be involved. Another is to attend the Annual Meetings. Attending the meetings gives newer AADR members the opportunity to listen to experts in the field. Through attending the meetings and networking, they’ll have a platform to promote themselves and their science. Also, it’s important for people who are newer in their career to attend these meetings because they will have an opportunity to network with other researchers who have a good handle on their science. At these meetings, people can network in groups at the symposia or they can network one-on-one in the poster hall. Annual Meetings are a very collegiate environment and one that values high-level science, I recommend that everyone get involved and attend these meetings no matter where you are in your career, it’s really the key to maximizing your membership experience.

What’s a message you want to give to future dental researchers?
My advice to future dental researchers is to find a good mentor. A good mentor is crucial to your success because they can tell you all the mistakes they have made, along with the right decisions they’ve made. Not only do you want a mentor who matches you but you want a mentor who has time to mentor you. In addition to finding a good mentor, it’s important to build and maintain your relationships because you’ll need to rely on them when it’s time for funding. There’s a lot of politics involved with obtaining funding but it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It simply means that you have to build your relationships with people—you need relationships with your program officers at NIH and you need connections in the community. Ultimately, all of this is what senior investigators or mentors can give to junior researchers. 

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