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Dr. Milgrom named 2012 Ross award recipient

September 03, 2012

By Jean Williams, ADA News staff

For his bold and pioneering strokes in the field of dental fears research and for nearly four decades of accomplishment in several other aspects of dentistry, Dr. Peter Milgrom has been named the 2012 recipient of the Norton M. Ross Award for Excellence in Clinical Research.

Norton M. Ross winner: Dr. Milgrom will receive $5,000 and a commemorative plaque Oct. 20 during the ADA Annual Session in San Francisco.

“Awards like this go to the old timers,” said Dr. Milgrom, an internationally recognized author and researcher and a professor at the University of Washington School of Dentistry. “I guess this is a wake-up call that I’ve been at this almost 40 years now.”

He added, “It’s super to be chosen. Two internationally recognized colleagues, Drs. Sam Dworkin and Roy Page, from UW were chosen for the award earlier. I am proud of my institution and its commitment to discovery.”

The Norton M. Ross Award has been presented annually since 1991 to recognize investigators whose research has significant impact on some aspect of clinical dentistry. The late Dr. Norton M. Ross was a dentist and pharmacologist who made significant contributions to oral medicine and dental clinical research.

“With this award, Dr. Milgrom joins the ranks of previous worthy recipients,” said ADA President William Calnon. “His selection further brings into focus his formidable career in research and shines light on important bridges he has built between basic research and clinical application.”

The ADA sponsors the award in Dr. Ross’ honor with support from Johnson & Johnson Healthcare Products Division of McNEIL-PPC Inc., the makers of LISTERINE and REACH products.

“It is our pleasure to recognize Dr. Milgrom with the Norton M. Ross Award,” said Lori Kumar, Ph.D., vice president of global consumer health care research and development, Johnson & Johnson Consumer & Personal Products Worldwide Division of Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies Inc., sponsors of the Norton M. Ross Award.

“Dr. Milgrom has dedicated his career to understanding dental phobia and developing innovative, effective techniques for helping patients overcome their fears of dental treatment,” Dr. Kumar said. “His achievements have also been instrumental in removing barriers for access to care and inspiring others around the world to embrace new ways of practicing compassionate, caring dentistry. Dr. Ross would have been proud of Dr. Milgrom’s passion and innovation.”

Dr. Milgrom will receive $5,000 and a commemorative plaque at a presentation luncheon Oct. 20 during Annual Session.

“The Norton Ross Award is significant because it acknowledges research that has been able to be translated into clinical practice,” Dr. Calnon said. “This underscores the significant impact of research on clinical outcomes.”

Fear is a powerful and well-known deterrent to visiting the dentist. Dr. Milgrom has gained renown for his efforts—and successes—in allaying those fears. He literally wrote the book on the subject. His “Treating Fearful Dental Patients” is an international standard now in its third edition and has been translated into several languages.

“In the area of dental fears research, Dr. Milgrom developed and served as the first director of the Dental Fears Research Clinic,” said Dr. Douglas Ramsay, a professor and chair of the Department of Oral Health Sciences at University of Washington School of Dentistry. “He and his colleagues pioneered a self-paced computer-based dental fear treatment program for needle phobics, which has been tested in community dental practice in the Northwest and has also become part of the care program at the King’s College Dental Institute in London which he helped start.”

Dr. Ramsay, who nominated Dr. Milgrom for the Norton M. Ross honor, noted that his esteemed colleague has published oft-quoted papers on the epidemiology of dental fear in the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, Singapore, China and South America.

“In addition, he conducted treatment studies of both behavioral and pharmacological interventions. His work on short-acting benzodiazepines in children is unique in medicine,” Dr. Ramsey said.

Dr. Milgrom is celebrated for his other numerous contributions to dentistry. In particular, his work in early childhood caries is distinguishing. He and colleague Dr. Peter Domoto, who is now retired, created and launched Access to Baby and Child Dentistry, a program in Washington aimed at reducing barriers to care for low-income young children.

As hallmarks of his career, dental phobia and early childhood caries go hand in hand. “When you take care of fearful people, you begin to realize that a lot of the reasons that they’re afraid is because they had very poor childhood experiences,” Dr. Milgrom said. “And for a lot of these folks, they grew up in situations where they didn’t have very good access to care. Then they went to the dentist the first time with an abscess in a baby tooth.

“Dentistry under those conditions is brutal. A child that hasn’t slept, a child that hasn’t eaten well and is cranky—even under the best circumstances—many of those children have negative experiences. They go to the dentist as long as their parents make them go. Then when they become adults, they stop going.”

He continues to center his efforts on thwarting early childhood caries and traumatic dental experiences in children before these evolve into dental phobia. He’s very interested in making changes at the policy level, especially with regard to ECC.

“I’m up to changing the system,” Dr. Milgrom said. “I’m not satisfied that the technology that we have, that the approaches we’re using are adequate to the task. So before I quit, my goal is to see if I can change the system.”

Dr. Milgrom prides himself on ushering in new scientific change agents through his mentoring of other dental researchers. In addition to his position at UW, where he has had various appointments since 1974, Dr. Milgrom currently has academic affiliations—and mentees—at the University of California San Francisco, Case Western Reserve University and the University of Rochester.

“Role models are especially important for the brave souls who follow in our footsteps,” Dr. Milgrom said. “To be a clinician scholar is doubly hard.”

Some of Dr. Milgrom’s mentees have now become his colleagues, he said. As an example, he points to Dr. Suchitra Nelson, a professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine, Department of Community Dentistry, with whom he was awarded a National Institutes of Health planning grant to improve dental access by intervening with families in East Cleveland, Ohio, schools.

When it comes to fostering the careers of young clinicians, he even puts his money where his mouth is, as the saying goes, to encourage the grooming of new talent. “I gave up my guaranteed salary so that the university would hire a young person and they did that,” he said. “Now I have an incredible younger person working with me who has many more skills than I had when I started, for sure.”

Dr. Milgrom said that taking risks is essential for clinical progress. “For me, it started with people taking risks on me—people giving me a job—because I didn’t have all the formal training and all the degrees after my name,” he said.

“I don’t have a Ph.D. I’m not board certified in anything. I’m self-taught. When I needed to learn how to do sedation for my patients in the fears clinic, I went to the chairman of anesthesiology in the medical school and said, 'I need to learn how to do this,’ and he said, 'Show up on Monday morning at the hospital.’ I did my regular job and I did my training at the same time. People took risks on me and allowed me to do things, and I feel like I take risks on other people, on young people.”