Linda C. Niessen - July 2012
Linda C. Niessen, D.M.D., M.P.H., M.P.P., currently serves as vice president and chief clinical officer for Dentsply International, and clinical professor in the Department of Restorative Sciences at the Texas A&M Health Science Center, Baylor College of Dentistry in Dallas. She is a graduate of the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, and received her M.P.H. at the Harvard School of Public Health and her M.P.P. from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
During her tenure as professor and chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences at Baylor College of Dentistry, she initiated graduate education programs in dental public health and geriatric dental care as part of the Baylor partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth. In addition, she has provided geriatric dental care to veterans as a staff dentist at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Dallas.
Throughout her career, Niessen has been active in professional dental organizations and has been an AADR member since 1983. She is a diplomate of the American Board of Dental Public Health and American Board of Special Care Dentistry.
A noted lecturer, writer, and public health advocate, Niessen has authored a textbook on geriatric dentistry titled Geriatric Dentistry: Aging and Oral Health, and is author or co-author of more than 60 scientific articles in peer-reviewed publications. She has received numerous awards, including the AADR Jack Hein Award for Public Service.
What do you find to be the most valuable benefit of AADR membership?
AADR’s mission is to advance research and increase knowledge for the improvement of oral health. To accomplish this mission, AADR facilitates professional development for the oral health research community through numerous activities, most notably, the AADR Annual meeting and local AADR chapters throughout the US. These meetings provide a forum for scientists both within and outside the oral health research community to come together to share ideas, insights and new findings. These meetings serve as a source of great intellectual nourishment when scientists on the cutting edge present their research findings. Listening to the dental public health greats like Drs. Herschel Horowitz and Brian Burt discuss and argue about subtle points of oral epidemiology, dental caries incidence and fluoride’s effects, was incredibly insightful to a young dental public health graduate student. Today, I still enjoy hearing what our top oral health scientists are learning from their research and how it can transform dentistry. AADR, by providing these venues for oral health scientists to gather and learn from one another, serves to advance dental research and truly improve oral health.
How important do you think cross-collaboration with other scientific disciplines is to the advancement of dental, oral and craniofacial research?
Cross collaboration is critically important. Many of the innovations we see in dental research have come from the intersection of disciplines. Scientists in universities, industry, private dental research institutes such as Forsyth and the ADA Paffenbarger Research Institute, and the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research at NIH, all find themselves learning from other disciplines and thinking about how a particular innovation in one field may benefit oral health science. On a personal level, through my work on various AADR committees, I had the opportunity to get to know and work with outstanding oral health scientists that I would not have necessarily met. These activities truly broadened my perspective as a public health and geriatric dental scientist. As the voice of oral health research, AADR plays a key role in lowering barriers to collaboration with colleagues and in linking the oral health sciences to the broader world of scientific research and discovery.
How valuable do you think AADR’s advocacy is to the community?
AADR’s advocacy for research and science transfer is critically important both to the oral health research community and for the public. AADR’s advocacy activities increase the awareness of the importance of oral health research to our elected officials both at the national and state levels. This advocacy informs elected officials and the public that dentistry is a scientific health discipline-like medicine- based on a strong foundation of research that has developed and created advances which have improved the oral health of the public. The 20th century has seen significant advances such as fluorides, high speed handpieces, tooth colored restorations, sealants, bone grafting materials and dental implants which have improved the oral health of the public. Dental research through its advocacy and science transfer helped these advances go from the laboratory to the operatory. Imagine the future of dentistry based on current research being done today in molecular biology. All of us whether in dental practice, education, research or industry need to work together to advance the message that oral health research has improved the oral health of the public and will continue to do so.
What is a piece of advice you want future dental researchers to know?
Future dentists need to recognize that they are dental scientists whether they work full time in private practice or in the university. Evidence –based dentistry begins with recognizing one’s role as a dental scientist and clinician. Louis Pasteur wrote “Chance favors the prepared mind.” The greatest contribution a dental professional makes is the thinking he or she does on behalf of one’s patients. AADR is clearly the most influential dental research organization in the United States. It’s hard to think of yourself as a dental scientist without becoming a member of AADR. As dentists begin their career, I would recommend that they become members of AADR and attend the AADR meeting. It will provide intellectual nourishment and they will learn about new research and technology that will lead to advances during their practice career. Each of us plays an important role in creating the future of a dental profession that provides innovative solutions for our patient’s oral health needs.