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Anne Tanner - February 2017

Anne Tanner, B.D.S., Ph.D., is a dentist and microbiologist at The Forsyth Institute, Cambridge, Mass. She is also associate professor, oral medicine, infection and immunity, at Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Boston, Mass. She earned her B.D.S. in dental surgery at Guy's Hospital Dental School, London University, England, UK; and her Ph.D. in periodontal microbiology at University of London, England, UK. She completed her postgraduate doctoral training at the then Forsyth Dental Center, Boston, Mass.

Tanner’s research interests have encompassed periodontal infections and dental caries. Her pivotal studies in anaerobic microbiology led to the description of several major periodontal pathogens including Bacteroides forsythus, which was reclassified to Tannerella forsythia in recognition of her work. Last year, Tanner received the IADR Distinguished Scientist Award for Research in Dental Caries in recognition of her outstanding and innovative achievements that have contributed to the basic understanding of caries etiology.  

As a trained anaerobic microbiologist in periodontology, Tanner has maintained an active role in anaerobic microbiology as lead or co-investigator in several taxonomy studies. She was a founding member and councilor of the American Society of Anaerobes as the representative of and advocate for dental research. In periodontology, her clinical microbiology studies indicated that early periodontitis represents a continuum from health to advanced periodontitis with a strong inflammatory component.

Her involvement in dental caries research builds on this background in clinical and microbiological research. Using DNA probe panels that incorporated caries and periodontal/subgingival species her studies confirmed the presence of S. mutans in pre-dentate children and indicated the key role of the mother as the primary source of the complete oral microbiota of the young child. Expanding the DNA probe panel to include Lactobacillus species, Tanner and collaborators showed that only a subset of lactobacilli was caries-associated, and other “probiotic lactobacilli” were more associated with caries-free children, which might explain why total lactobacillus counts may not be reliable risk indicators for dental caries. Using anaerobic microbiology she headed a study that highlighted the strong association of a new species, Scardovia wiggsiae, in advanced and initial caries in children, a likely a new pathogen to this infection. Her studies have implications for dental caries beyond childhood caries.

Since joining in 1974, Tanner has remained engaged in IADR/AADR through attending the IADR General Sessions and AADR Annual Meetings where she continues to present her research. Additionally, she has served as an AADR Section president and as a member of the JDR Editorial Board. Currently, she is an AADR Representative to the IADR/AADR Publications Committee and is a council member of the NIDCR Advisory Council.

What motivated you to join AADR? 
I joined AADR because I was interested in continuing research. Since I was working in dental research, I knew that AADR was THE organization to join because it served the research community, and I knew that the meetings were a good place to present my research and learn from other researchers. 

What has been one of the highlights of your AADR membership?
A sustaining highlight of my AADR membership is that through AADR, I’ve been able to continuously learn about other members’ research. Attending the meetings is one way I’ve been able to learn but also through reading the science that’s published in the journals. Another highlight of my AADR membership is receiving the 2016 IADR Distinguished Scientist Award in Dental Caries Research—I was honored to be recognized for my research. 

How can newer AADR members benefit from attending the AADR Annual Meeting?
The Annual Meeting is the place to see and be seen! It’s important to attend the AADR Annual Meetings because it’s a great opportunity to project your research and get good visibility. In addition to sharing and learning information, you can get feedback on your science. If you’re looking for research funding opportunities, the meetings are a good place to learn about NIDCR funding. 

What are you currently researching?
My colleagues and I are currently looking at young children for the microbiota of dental caries and we are looking at pre-adolescents for linking diet, obesity and type 2 diabetes to various salivary factors. My main component is looking for bacteria in little children and specifically following up with Scardovia wiggsiae in different populations of children to see where it might be important. We’re also looking at bacterial gene expression activity in dental caries and seeing what infection children have.

How important do you think cross-collaboration with other scientific disciplines is to the future of dental, oral and craniofacial research?
It is important to the point of being essential. Gone is the day of the one-person practice and the one-person lab. There are so many areas to understand, and experts in other fields have perspectives that are important to hear and might help further your research. This is such a cross-disciplinary field and you can’t do it all alone. 

What’s a message you would give to dental students to encourage them to pursue dental research?
If you want to forward the field of dentistry and improve the understanding of disease and clinical practice, research is the way to go. Research is very useful in the public health aspect of dentistry to try and control dental problems on the population basis. The interest in research is two-fold: to understand dental diseases better and to improve dental health.  

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