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Polverini lecture looks to the future of dentistry

Dr. Peter Polverini

Former dean delivers Distinguished University Professor lecture

Ann Arbor, Mich., April 3, 2017 -– Dentistry is changing as rapidly as the rest of the health care universe, but ultimately the singular focus of providers must remain the same – do what’s best for the patient.

That was one of the themes explored by Dr. Peter J. Polverini as he delivered his Distinguished University Professor lecture Thursday at the Rackham Graduate School. A professor and former dean of the School of Dentistry, Polverini discussed “Reimagining the Future of Dental Practice.”

All across the health care spectrum, dentists and doctors are navigating a web of new technology, new science, new treatment methods and new interprofessional collaboration at a rapid pace. Polverini identified five areas where changes for dentists will be particularly significant:

• Dentistry will focus much more on maintaining health rather than on disease management as is the case today.
• Care will become much more personalized.
• Technology innovations in the life sciences will revolutionize health care, particularly in the area of precision medicine.
• Teams of health care providers rather than individuals in solitary offices will treat patients.
• The scope of dental practice will be broader.

If treatments today could sometimes be called reactive, Polverini said, the future will involve more of what is being called personalized or precision medicine, which, for example, looks for biomarkers that can predict a patient’s likelihood of developing certain conditions or illnesses. That will allow for more accurate diagnosis and targeted therapies, ultimately leading to better and faster treatment, which leads to a better quality of life and longer lifespan.

“If oral health is integral to general health, shouldn’t we be screening for general health problems at the chairside in the dental office?” Polverini asked. “It’s said that patients see their dentists more often than their physicians.  Should dentists be providing vaccines for children or should dentists be screening for noncommunicable diseases that they don’t do now?”

For example, there are numerous screening tests using saliva for monitoring or indicating certain conditions, including diabetes. A visit to the dentist could have value for the patient above and beyond the standard teeth cleaning and restoration.

Because the future patient care environment will demand close integration with the other health sciences, that means dental education will be reshaped as well, Polverini said. “Rather than the silo approach to education that we have been used to, things will change. We will learn and work in teams, to be much more effective in how we deliver our care.  There will be increased efforts in prevention, in terms of our educational programs.  There will be early diagnosis and we will learn about precision therapy and how it can best be used,” he said.

It’s all part of “this new world of personalized health care,” he said.

“What’s it mean for patients?  They will have a greater knowledge of what diseases they are at risk for. They will have a better understanding of what they need to do to minimize their risk. They will be able to make better treatment decisions.  And, most importantly, they will have an increased role in managing their own care.”

Polverini is a professor of oral and maxillofacial pathology in the Division of Oral Pathology/Medicine/Radiology in the Department of Periodontics and Oral Medicine at the School of Dentistry. He is also a professor of pathology at the U-M Medical School. His research in vascular and cancer biology has included numerous publications and awards from national and international organizations. More recently, he has focused his attention on the educational and workforce implications of new models of collaborative care and the emerging personalized healthcare environment.

He is the first dentistry faculty member to be named a Distinguished University Professor by the University of Michigan. His appointment was announced in May 2015. Professors who receive the honor offer an inaugural lecture during the first or second full year of their appointments. Distinguished University Professorships were established in 1947 to recognize professors for exceptional scholarly or creative achievement, national and international reputation, and superior teaching skills. In consultation with their dean, each professor chooses a name for the distinguished professorship. Polverini is the Jonathan Taft Distinguished University Professor in honor of the first dean of the School of Dentistry when it was founded in 1875.

Polverini and six other U-M professors who received the Distinguished University Professor honor in 2015 or 2016 are delivering their lectures this year.


The University of Michigan School of Dentistry is one of the nation’s leading dental schools engaged in oral health care education, research, patient care and community service.  General dental care clinics and specialty clinics providing advanced treatment enable the school to offer dental services and programs to patients throughout Michigan.  Classroom and clinic instruction prepare future dentists, dental specialists, and dental hygienists for practice in private offices, hospitals, academia and public agencies.  Research seeks to discover and apply new knowledge that can help patients worldwide.  For more information about the School of Dentistry, visit us on the Web at:
Contact: Lynn Monson, associate director of communication, at, or (734) 615-1971.