UNMC College of Dentistry student wins top award in research/public health

Honored for presentation on bone loss associated with arthritis

Paul Johnson, a fourth-year dental student at the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Dentistry in Lincoln, earned first place in the Clinical Research/Public Health Category at the 54th American Dental Association/DENTSPLY Student Clinician Research Program, at the American Dental Association Annual Session in New Orleans on Nov. 2.

His presentation, entitled “Alveolar Bone Loss in Subjects with Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis,” competed against students from 56 U.S. dental schools. It is only the second time in 54 years a UNMC student has taken first place at the event.

The study found that patients with rheumatoid arthritis were at a greater risk for more severe alveolar bone loss in comparison to the control group (osteoarthritis patients). Alveolar bone supports and anchors the roots of teeth.

Johnson received an engraved glass trophy, $750 and a travel award to attend the 102nd Thomas P. Hinman Dental Meeting in Atlanta on March 27-29. 

A native of Brookings, S.D., Johnson will graduate in May, and then enter UNMC’s postgraduate program in periodontics, a specialty that deals with prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of periodontal disease and in the placement of dental implants

“This award ranks among the highest dental student research honors in the world,” said John Reinhardt, D.D.S., dean of the UNMC College of Dentistry. “We are extremely proud of Paul’s achievement. The award also speaks very well of his faculty mentors and the high quality of research in which our students are engaged.”

Johnson’s study team, who worked on this project, included Jeffrey Payne, D.D.S., Shawneen Gonzalez, D.D.S., and Marian Schmid from the UNMC College of Dentistry; Fang Yu, Ph.D., and Harlan Sayles from the UNMC College of Public Health; and Ted Mikuls, M.D., from the UNMC College of Medicine.

“I can't thank Dr. Payne, Dr. Gonzalez and the rest of the staff working on this project enough for their support throughout the past two and a half years,” Johnson said. “It was a great experience seeing an interdisciplinary team work together towards a common goal and realizing such great results. I was just the lucky one who had the opportunity to present the poster.

Johnson said he had a “neat” story to tell with the project, emphasizing the idea that oral diseases like periodontitis may play a role in systemic health problems like rheumatoid arthritis (or vice versa).

“To be awarded first place out of the 56 institutions was just a surreal moment,” he said. “It was quite humbling to know I was among individuals who will undoubtedly guide the future of our profession.”

Johnson’s project was supported by the American College of Rheumatology Research Foundation (Dr. Mikuls, principal investigator) and by the F. Gene and Rosemary Dixon Endowed Chair in Dentistry (Dr. Payne, endowed chair), with additional support provided by the UNMC Clinical Research Center.

The American Dental Association is the professional association of dentists that fosters the success of a diverse membership and advances the oral health of the public.

The DENTSPLY Student Clinician Research Program began in 1959, and more than 5,000 students from more than 36 countries take part in the event annually. DENTSPLY is a dental manufacturing company which helps support the research program.

Through world-class research and patient care, UNMC generates breakthroughs that make life better for people throughout Nebraska and beyond. Its education programs train more health professionals than any other institution in the state. Learn more at unmc.edu and follow us on social media.


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John Keenan
UNMC Public Relations
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Tom O'Connor
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