When I was approached by the Nobel Committee at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute in October last year, probably as having been recognized as “[h]older of [an] established post as full Professor[s] at the faculties of medicine in Sweden [or] holder[s] of similar post[s] at the faculties of medicine or similar institutions in Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway”; and invited to nominate a possible candidate for the Physiology and Medicine award 2017, I was wondering whether there would be a dentist who might deserve the honor.
According to Alfred Nobel’s (1833-1896) will,
[t]he said interest shall be divided into five equal parts, which shall be apportioned as follows: /- – -/ one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery within the domain of physiology or medicine …
Well, I checked out most prolific and highly cited dentistry professionals (of course with a focus on Perio), made myself aware of previous years’ laureates, and immediately noticed there was none. Dentistry has made advances in the past hundred years or so, no doubt. But, when considering Perio (my field of interest), it might in fact be questioned whether our understanding of the pathogenesis of periodontal diseases has witnessed fundamental breakthroughs after, say, the late 1970s. Whether basic principles of treatment have changed. As a matter of fact, innovations, such as regenerative treatment, had no lasting effect as respective methods may be applied in a minority of lesions, i.e. deep infrabony lesions and a few furcation involvements only. And the main issues, prevention and treatment of more aggressive forms, seem to be yet unresolved. What appears to thrill both young and old dentists right now is a one-hundred-year-old claim of focal infection, the so-called Perio-Systemic link.
In 2014, the American Academy of Periodontology has published, on the occasion of their centennial, a series of review articles on “the literature that shaped” our specialty, and I had extensively reported on respective contributions in some detail. I do not want to hide that I had (and have) a rather pessimistic view about the future of Perio. No Nobel Prize in sight.
There might in fact be one exception. For a long time colleagues and students have listened to a remark I had made every now and then: “If there was one individual in the realm of Dentistry who would deserve the Nobel Prize in Medicine, it must be Brånemark.” Per-Ingvar Brånemark (1929-2014) had observed, in the late 1960s, a biological principle that he called “osseointegration”, namely the structural and functional connection between living bone and the surface of a load-bearing artificial implant, in particular titanium. This observation had changed Dentistry once and probably forever. And, as all dental “solutions”, creates many more problems granting that future dentists shall have lots to do.
It was interesting to learn, in an editorial of Clinical and Experimental Dental Research, that my esteemed colleague at IKO, Professor Asbjørn Jokstad, apparently had the same idea and had even endorsed an FDI initiative to nominate Brånemark for the Nobel Prize back in 2006.
Anyway, as Professor Brånemark had passed in December 2014, he was no longer eligible. So, whom did I nominate? The answer to that question may be found above.
10 July 2017 @ 11:23 am
UPDATE July 10, 2017.
While there is no dental Nobel laureate so far, I should mention that, in 1996, distinguished SUNY at Buffalo Professor Robert J. Genco was awarded the notorious IgNoble Price in, well, Economics for his discovery that financial strain is a risk indicator for destructive periodontal disease.