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‘He stood tall among his colleagues:’ former Gold Medal awardee, CSA member dies

August 10, 2018

By Michelle Manchir

Dr. Offenbacher
Dr. Offenbacher

A prolific researcher, periodontist and the 2015 ADA Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Dental Research winner, Dr. Steven Offenbacher, died Aug. 9. He was 67.

Dr. Offenbacher, a dentist with a Ph.D. and a member of the ADA Council on Scientific Affairs, died unexpectedly while on a cruise with his wife, according to a memo to Dr. Offenbacher’s colleagues at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Dentistry.

“This news is shocking to all of us,” Dr. Scott De Rossi, the school of dentistry dean, wrote.

Dr. Offenbacher is credited with leading groundbreaking research about the relationships between periodontal diseases and pregnancy outcomes and cardiovascular disease.

“We mourn the passing of our talented colleague,” said ADA President Joseph P. Crowley. “Dr. Offenbacher’s distinguished career has left a lasting impression on dental research and education. He was a valuable asset to the ADA Council on Scientific Affairs and we will miss him greatly.”

Dr. Offenbacher had been a member of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill faculty since 1991 and appointed to chair of the department of periodontolgy in 2010, from which he had recently stepped down, said Dr. De Rossi, who went on to list some of Dr. Offenbacher’s other extraordinary achievements.

In addition to the 2015 Gold Medal Award, which recognizes individuals who contribute to the advancement of the dental profession or who help improve the oral health of the community through basic or clinical research, he in 2014 was awarded the AAP Distinguished Scientist Award.

“Dr. Offenbacher introduced and popularized the term ‘periodontal medicine’ and for his translational research become a three-time recipient of the American Academy of Periodontology’s Clinical Research Award,” sad Dr. De Rossi, adding that “His scholarship accrued more than 28,000 citations and more than 250 publications.”

At the ADA, he was chair of the Council on Scientific Affairs’ Extramural Research subcommittee, co-authored the council’s position paper on genetic tests in dentistry and was a member of the periodontology workgroup. In 2006, he was recognized with the Norton M. Ross Award for Excellence in Clinical Research.

Beyond his professional accomplishments, colleagues remembered Dr. Offenbacher for his character.

 “Steve could be counted on to give thoughtful solutions to thorny problems,” said chair of the ADA Council on Scientific Affairs, Dr. Paul Eleazer. “He stood tall among his colleagues.”

The UNC School of Dentistry posted an article Aug. 10 about Dr. Offenbacher’s passing.

“As much of a giant as he was in periodontology, his heart was bigger,” said Dr. De Rossi in the story. “He was larger than life in all aspects: his scholarship, his patient care, his laugh and, most important, his heart.”

Dr. Offenbacher earned his D.D.S. at the Medical College of Virginia, followed by a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the same school. He also has a master of medical sciences in oral biology from Harvard Medical School.

He worked his way through dental school as a union guitarist, he told the ADA News in 2015, saying his experiences on stage helped him prepare for a life of talking with others in the clinic, classroom and laboratory.

While spearheading research projects and teaching, he continued to work in the UNC dental faculty practice once a week, he said in 2015.

“I am very proud to be a dentist,” he said. “I am a dentist and periodontist first and scientist second. I feel very strongly that dentistry is a noble profession in which we serve as physicians of the oral cavity.”

Dr. Offenbacher is survived by his wife, Julie, and two children.

This story will be updated.