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Dr. Yagiela, dental anesthesia authority, dies at 64

Dr. Yagiela, dental anesthesia authority, dies at 64
Dr. Yagiela

Los Angeles—Dr. John A. Yagiela, an internationally recognized authority on pain and anxiety control in dentistry, died Feb. 22.

Dr. Yagiela, 64, became ill while scuba diving and later died at the Santa Monica University of California-Los Angeles Medical Center.

He is being remembered by his colleagues and friends for his devotion to patient safety and comfort, and his teachings that gave countless dentists a sound foundation in pharmacology.

Dr. Yagiela was a frequent lecturer at dental meetings both nationally and in his home state. After hearing the news of his passing, several organizations announced they would dedicate upcoming meetings and lectures in his memory, including the American Dental Society of Anesthesiology and International Federation of Dental Anesthesiology Societies, the California Dental Society of Anesthesiology, the California Society of Periodontists and the American Society of Dentist Anesthesiologists. 

A past president of ASDA and the American Dental Board of Anesthesiology, Dr. Yagiela spent his career at the University of California-Los Angeles School of Dentistry, where he served as professor and chair of the Division of Diagnostic and Surgical Sciences, coordinator of pain and anxiety control, and director of the dental anesthesiology residency program.

As a professor at UCLA, Dr. Yagiela engaged in research on pain and anxiety control and maintained a dental anesthesiology practice. But his influence in this area extended well beyond UCLA. Dr. Yagiela’s textbook, Pharmacology and Therapeutics for Dentistry (Mosby), became the standard reference for all dental students.

He retired from the UCLA full-time faculty in 2011 and was subsequently named Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Dental Anesthesiology.

“Dr. John Yagiela’s passing is a tragedy for our anesthesiology specialty as John was so ridiculously smart that one could not help but be in awe of his intellect and questioning mind that was attached to one of the nicest people who would do anything for our specialty and for all the dental patients that so desperately need our help to improve their lives,” said Dr. Steven Ganzberg, clinical professor and chief of anesthesiology at the UCLA dental school.

Dr. Joel Weaver, a member of the ADA Council on Dental Education and Licensure’s Committee on Anesthesiology, called Dr. Yagiela “a giant in dental anesthesiology.”

As the ADA developed the revisions to the Association’s anesthesia guidelines documents in 2006, Drs. Yagiela and Weaver were two experts in the field invited to present at the ADA Invitational Anesthesia Conference. 

“Before that, we became acquainted when I was asked to publish a book review of his pharmacology text, now in its 6th edition, in the Journal of the American Dental Association,” said Dr. Weaver. 

“John was one of the most brilliant men I have ever met,” he continued. “He had a boundless enthusiasm for life and particularly enjoyed providing anesthesia care for small children and those with special needs. He will be missed by the entire dental community, but his legacy will be his residents who graduated from his two-year dental anesthesiology program and dental students throughout the world who have a sound foundation of pharmacology.”

“He was always the smartest guy in the room and to lecture in his presence gave one pause for no matter how prepared one was, John was always one step ahead of us all,” said Dr. Morton Rosenberg, professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery and associate professor of anesthesia at the Tufts University Schools of Medicine and Dental Medicine.

“This is such a loss to the profession—he influenced a lot of what we do in sedation and anesthesia on a national basis,” said Dr. Robert Merin, a periodontist and a past member of the ADA Committee on Anesthesiology. “He had a wonderful ability to make complicated things simple, and when you had a problem, he was the one you talked to. He usually knew off the top of his head what went wrong. I had the great pleasure of driving with him to some meetings and I learned more on the drive than I usually did at the course.”

Dr. Merin represented AAP at the Invitational Anesthesia Conference, and he recalled how Dr. Yagiela got a head start working on the revisions to the anesthesia documents while stuck on an airplane at the Los Angeles airport.

“He had his computer, so he started updating the documents based on the changes that were recommended when he chaired the blue ribbon panel that developed anesthesia regulations for California in 2005,” said Dr. Merin. “When he arrived in Chicago, he handed it to us. That really formed the basis for most of the ADA anesthesia guidelines.”

Dr. Yagiela’s dedication to his field drove him to advocate for dental anesthesiology becoming an ADA-recognized specialty, said ASDA officials. ASDA’s application—filed in 2011—awaits action by CDEL and ultimately, the House of Delegates, in 2012.

Dr. Yagiela earned his dental degree from UCLA in 1971 and a Ph.D. in pharmacology from the University of Utah in 1975. He taught at Emory University for six years before returning to UCLA to complete his residency in anesthesiology, where he stayed for the remainder of his career.

In addition to his posts at UCLA, he was professor of anesthesiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and an examiner for the State of California. Dr. Yagiela edited the journal Anesthesia Progress and the ADSA Pulse Newsletter, and was a member of the American Dental Society of Anesthesiology’s board from 1997-2007.

Over the course of his career, Dr. Yagiela was the recipient of many awards and accolades, including the Leonard M. Monheim Distinguished Service Award from ASDA, the Heidebrink Award from ADSA and the Horace Wells Award from the International Federation of Dental Anesthesia Societies. In 2004, he was named the UCLA School of Dentistry’s Alumnus of the Year.

He is survived by a son and a daughter, Greg and Leanne; five grandchildren; and was preceded in death in 2011 by his wife, Dolores.