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Swiss researcher honored with Norton M. Ross award

November 16, 2015

By Michelle Manchir

Dr. Lang
Bern, Switzerland
— As a boy, Dr. Niklaus Lang’s involvement in Scouts turned into a passion. He eventually became a Scout Master and mentor for youth.

A gifted baritone, Dr. Lang took voice lessons for 15 years and considered becoming a professional opera singer.

As a dentist and dental researcher, Dr. Lang, of Bern, Switzerland, is considered a pioneer of research on dental implants, laying the foundation for clinical periodontal diagnosis and the efficacy of surgical and nonsurgical therapeutic measures in treating periodontal and peri-implant diseases.

“When I get into things, I get very enthusiastic about them,” Dr. Lang said. “I’m a person who does things at 99 percent — not 100 percent — because if I did them at 100 percent, I would not do very much.”

His enthusiasm and dedication may be apparent in all he pursues, but his work in dentistry has earned Dr. Lang the 2015 Norton M. Ross Award for Excellence in Clinical Research.

The ADA has presented the annual award, financially supported by Johnson & Johnson, since 1991 to recognize investigators whose research has significant impact on some aspect of clinical dentistry. Dr. Lang will receive $5,000 and a commemorative plaque at the American Association for Dental Research Annual Meeting & Exhibition March 16-19 in Los Angeles.

“The award commemorates our commitment to the importance of dental research and our goal of positively impacting public health,” said Dr. Michael Lynch, global director of oral care scientific engagement at Johnson & Johnson. “This year’s recipient, Prof. Niklaus Lang, is an outstanding choice to celebrate the 25th anniversary of this award.”

Dr. Lang’s nominator, American Academy of Periodontology President Joan Otomo-Corgel, wrote, “We owe our knowledge of criteria for implant survival and success largely to his work. … His work has improved our understanding of the dimensions of clinical health, most importantly, the efficacy of clinical indices and measurements in determining health.”

Dr. Otomo-Corgel said she first met Dr. Lang in the early 1980s, when she was listening to him lecture about peri-implant issues. Dr. Lang, she said, is responsible for much of the major groundwork on describing the etiology and pathogenesis of peri-implant infection.

“He’s a living legend,” she said.

Dr. Lang attributes his zeal for dental research in part to the late Dr. Harald Löe, director of the National Institute of Dental Research (now called the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research) from 1988-94, and with whom Dr. Lang transferred from the Royal Dental College in Denmark to the University of Michigan for further study.

“I had the lucky coincidence to go with him as an associate when he transferred,” Dr. Lang said.

Dr. Lang also calls Dr. Sigurd P. Ramfjord a mentor. Dr. Ramfjord was chair of the Michigan school’s department of periodontology while Dr. Lang studied there. Dr. Ramfjord, who in 1991 received the Norton M. Ross Award, was the first dental investigator to carry out longitudinal studies on the effectiveness of various periodontal treatments, according to the University of Michigan.

“I had as mentors two of the most eminent periodontists you could ever imagine,” Dr. Lang said.

After training in periodontology in Michigan for three years, Dr. Lang returned to Bern to earn his Ph.D., where he soon after earned a professorship at the University of Bern, working his way up to becoming chairman of the Department of Periodontology and Fixed Prosthodontics there for more than two decades before pursuing further teaching positions and research.

Dr. Lang has published more than 500 scientific articles and textbooks and is the editor-in-chief of Clinical Oral Implants Research. He is also an honorary member of 11 different professional societies, and is or was on the editorial board of many of the most important European scientific journals.

The scope and breadth of Dr. Lang’s career research is stunning, said Dr. Tom Hart, director of the ADA Foundation Volpe Research Center, who was on the selection committee for the Norton M. Ross Award.

“He’s one of the most productive people that I’m aware of in dentistry,” Dr. Hart said.

Proficient in English, German, French and Danish, Dr. Lang has presented lectures, seminars and courses in more than 60 countries. While he officially retired in 2008, when he turned 65, he went on to teach implant dentistry in Hong Kong for five years. There, he started a grad school program at The University of Hong Kong for implant dentistry, he said.

Today, he freelances as a research editor and maintains commitments with four universities in the United Kingdom, Spain and Switzerland to teach seminars several times per year. He also works on manuscripts with post-graduate researchers.

Dr. Lang “is and was for generations of dental students, postgraduate student and dental hygienists an important teacher and mentor,” said Dr. Dominik Hofer, past president of the Swiss Society of Periodontology, in a statement. “In the perio community, I think there is no need to (introduce) Klaus Lang anymore.”

The long list of other honors Dr. Lang has earned includes the periodontal disease research award from the International Association for Dental Research in the early 1990s, and in 2014, he was awarded the European Federation of Periodontology’s Gold Medal and Distinguished Scientist Award, which is given in recognition of outstanding contributions to the understanding of the field of periodontology and the diagnosis and treatment of periodontal disease through published literature.

Still, Dr. Lang said he was “flabbergasted” when he found out he was receiving the Norton M. Ross award.

“I was positively shocked. It is always nice if your peers are selecting you for your achievement,” he said. ““It means a lot for me and especially because it’s from the ADA. I am very, very, very happy about this.”