Steven Offenbacher, DDS, PhD, MMSc, W.R. Kenan Distinguished Professor and former chair of the Department of Periodontology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) School of Dentistry, passed away unexpectedly on Aug. 9, 2018. He was 67 years old.
“The passing of Dr. Offenbacher is completely shocking to us all,” says Dean Scott De Rossi, DMD, MBA. “In his field and across oral health, it is no exaggeration to say that Dr. Offenbacher’s name was synonymous with periodontology. He was truly a giant; and as much of a giant as he was in periodontology, his heart was bigger. He was larger than life in all aspects: his scholarship, his patient care, his laugh and, most important, his heart. Here in Chapel Hill, we had the opportunity to know Dr. Offenbacher as a colleague, a mentor, a trusted advisor, and a friend. While oral health across the world will greatly feel his loss, it goes without saying that those of us who spent our workdays alongside him certainly have a greater loss in his passing.”
Offenbacher enjoyed an incredibly noteworthy career, and he was perhaps most well-known for introducing and popularizing the term “periodontal medicine.” He is credited with pioneering the work that illustrated the relationship between periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease, and also that between periodontal disease and adverse pregnancy outcomes.
His work earned him many accolades, including: the 1999 International Association of Dental Research (IADR) Basic Science Award in Periodontology; the 1999 William J. Gies Foundation Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition Special Impact Award; the 2006 American Dental Association (ADA) Norton M. Ross Award for Excellence in Clinical Research; the 2008 American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) Educator Award for Outstanding Teaching and Mentoring in Periodontics; the 2014 AAP Distinguished Scientist Award; and the 2015 ADA Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Dental Research. Additionally, he won the AAP Clinical Research Award three times (2004, 2008 and 2009).
At the UNC-CH School of Dentistry, Offenbacher was honored with the Class of 1958 Clinical Research Award in 2010 and was awarded Honorary Lifetime Membership in the Dental Alumni Association in 2017.
In 2013, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Board of Trustees named Offenbacher a W.R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor in recognition of his excellence in teaching and research. The professorship is considered one of the University’s most prestigious honors, and Offenbacher said at the time he was “incredibly humbled to be given such an honor from the University.”
Offenbacher was a past president of the American Association for Dental Research (AADR) and twice provided congressional testimony in support of oral health research. During his career, he held memberships in the ADA, AADR/IADR, AAP and the American Dental Education Association.
Offenbacher joined the UNC-CH School of Dentistry faculty in 1991. He was appointed the chair of the Department of Periodontology in 2010, after serving four months as interim chair, and stepped down from that position on July 30, 2018 with plans to remain on the school’s faculty and refocus his efforts on scholarship and mentorship. In 2003, he was appointed the OraPharma Distinguished Professor of Periodontal Medicine. During his time at UNC-CH, he also served as director of the Center for Oral and Systemic Diseases, and of the General and Oral Health Center – often called GO Health.
Before coming to UNC-CH, Offenbacher served as a faculty, ascending to the role of chair of the Department of Periodontology, at the Emory University School of Dentistry. He began his work at Emory University in 1980, after working as an instructor in at the Medical College of Virginia and also as a research fellow at the Harvard School of Dentistry Medicine. Offenbacher earned his Doctor of Dental Surgery degree and his PhD in biochemistry from Virginia Commonwealth University; his Master of Medical Science degree in oral biology from Harvard Medical School; and completed his post-doctoral training in pharmacology and periodontal medicine at the Forsyth Dental Center at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine.