Professor Mühlemann’s Legacy

In September 1992, I had been invited by the Swiss Society of Periodontology (SSP) to attend the annual meeting in Lugano. Ealier that year, I had submitted a manuscript for the Hans-R. Mühlemann Research Prize which was part of my PhD thesis. I had been informed in summer that I had been selected for the competition, one among four or five finalists, including Peter Galgut and Peter Schüpbach who I considered serious competitors. The jury consisted of (former awardees) Andrea Mombelli and Thomas Hassell, as well as Max Listgarten. Late Hubert Schroeder presented parts of his recent work, a monolithic, roughly 60 printed pages long review article in the International Reviews in Cytology on biological problems of regenerative cementogenesis. Schüpbach’s presentation was about structural and ultrastructural features of healing events between regenerated periodontal ligament and root surface after experimental periodontal disease in dogs. I presented 2-yr data of comprehensive treatment in patients with different types of periodontitis all infected by A. actinomycetemcomitans.

I won the award, and  late Hans Mühlemann (he passed in 1997) cordially congratulated me on stage emphasizing the many years of hard work for eventually yielding this tiny piece of research. The Mühlemann Prize was, at that time, one of a few international awards for young periodontists (the other important in Europe was the Jens Waerhaug Prize of the Scandinavian Society of Periodontology) and I still take much pride for actually winning  it. What I did not know was that the award had become political that year. There was outrage among the people from Zurich when it became clear that I had won the prize and not Schüpbach. Bernard Guggenheim, co-author of Schüpbach’s paper, later announced that he would leave the SSP in protest. I got this information years later from Klaus Lang, who was cagey not to attended this particular annual meeting but had certainly made sure that his right-hand man Mombelli was in the jury probably with the purpose to prevent any triumph for the people from Zurich. I really felt ashamed.

Well, in 1992 Guggenheim, who was everything else but a periodontist, had just been promoted to full professor in Oral Biology in Zurich where all-rounder and dental genius Mühlemann (who held specialization degrees in perio, oral surgery, radiology and orthodontics) had established different innovations in his department, sections of Preventive Dentistry (headed by Thomas Marthaler), Oral Structural Biology (Hubert Schroeder), and Oral Microbiology and General Immunology (Bernard Guggenheim). Especially the two latter were utterly difficult personalities notwithstanding their huge contributions in Dentistry. In particular Hubert Schroeder (who passed in 2012) has ever been one of my personal heroes. From Königsberg, he truly adopted Kant’s rigor in scientific argument, smashing popular beliefs by hard facts, i.e. histology. His research on dental calculus and, in particular, junctional epithelium and root cementum lasts for decades. Schroeder’s razor-sharp arguments in his articles are sadly missed. When I later met Guggenheim on conferences (the last was in 2008 in Helsinki), I got an impression of a rather egomaniac, self-rightous and authoritarian individual, a typical exponent of his generation.

Mühlemann’s successor, Felix Lutz, killed his wife and himself in 2002.

I read today that Bernard Guggenheim has deceased last month. May he rest in peace.

4 August 2015 @ 7:43 pm.

Last modified August 20, 2015.

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