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Biologic and Materials Sciences and Division of Prosthodontics

Faculty Profile - Gerstner

Geoffrey Gerstner, DDS, MS, PhD

Biologic & Materials Sciences
Associate Professor

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Dr. Gerstner holds a BS in Zoology from BYU, where he became interested in animal behavior and mammalogy as a pre-dental student. After graduation, he enrolled in a dual degree program at UCLA where he continued animal behavior studies in an MS program while obtaining a DDS degree. As an MS student, he studied motor control in a guinea pig model of tardive dyskinesia and became interested in the nature of time and temporality in motor behavior. After graduating, he pursued further graduate training through an individual NIH Dentist Scientist Award. He studied chronic pain management as the clinical component of this training and as the research component, he obtained a PhD in Neuroscience, during which time he did comparative behavior studies of giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis), okapis (Okapia johnstoni), roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), gray kangaroos (Macropus giganteus), red pandas (Ailurus fulgens) and raccoons (Procyon lotor) at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Wild Animal Park, Los Angeles Zoo and Phoenix Zoo. His present work continues to push the tension between clinical and field-biology.

Dr. Gerstner’s research currently focuses on ingestive motor behaviors among mammalian species. Mammals possess advanced peripheral motor control systems and unique jaws and teeth that enhance feeding efficiency. Feeding efficiency allows other mammalian traits to remain viable, e.g., homeothermy and expanded neocortices, both of which require considerable energy, and extended rearing of young which requires efficient suckling of energy-rich milk. A testament to the success of mammalian evolution is the breathtaking variation in jaw and tooth forms and diverse feeding niches that mammals now occupy. The mammalian radiations have also been accompanied by rich and diverse feeding behaviors involving jaw, palate, tongue, and pharyngeal coordination necessary to handle foods efficiently. The behavioral kinematics are complex and probably species-specific. To characterize this complexity and to document movement categories that are species-specific or function-specific, Dr. Gerstner is working with Drs. Beth Crane, Ed Rothman and others using functional data analysis, a powerful new statistical method, which is uniquely equipped to study movement kinematics. Data are collected in clinical, field and museum settings, and used to understand the relationships and interactions between chewing rhythmicity, jaw kinematics, oral morphology, phylogeny and feeding niche. Dr. Gerstner also works with Dr. Andres Quintero and others to study the neural bases of mastication; these human studies use neuroimaging (fMRI, fcMRI, VBM) to identify the neural mechanisms involved with chewing and to tease apart the roles of each central region in chewing.