A chat with Dean Zambon


Published October 30, 2019

Joseph Zambon.

As part of a new series of interviews with UB’s deans, UBNow sat down with Joseph Zambon, dean of the School of Dental Medicine, to learn more about the school’s community service efforts, recent renovations and the future of dental education. 

May marked your third year as dean of the School of Dental Medicine. Which of the school’s accomplishments are you most proud of during your time as dean?

There are a number of things that we have accomplished over the past three years of which we are especially proud. Shortly after I became dean, we underwent our dental accreditation review, and for the first time in memory, the accreditation team did not find a single standard among the hundreds required that we did meet or exceed.

We’ve increased the number of endowed chairs in our school from one to three. This has enabled us to recruit outstanding new faculty members to the school, including new chairs in the Department of Orthodontics and the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, and a new associate dean for innovation technology transfer.

Our school ranks among the top dental schools — No. 10 of 66 in the U.S., and No. 13 of 300 across the world.

Our educational programs continue to attract record numbers of applicants. Last year, there were more than 2,000 applicants for 93 positions in our DDS program, and over 1,000 applicants for 26 positions in our international program. One out of every six applicants to U.S. dental schools apply to the School of Dental Medicine.

And our graduates are highly sought after. About 85% of our DDS graduates receive either their first or second choice of postgraduate programs.

UB Dental is often cited as one of the university’s greatest community service efforts. Can you describe the impact of the clinic on the community and its importance to students?

Each year, we provide millions of dollars of free or subsidized dental care to residents of Erie County and Western New York through our Squire Hall clinics, our mobile dental unit focused on schoolchildren in the Southern Tier, and in our clinics across the region.

We’re the safety net for people with limited resources and limited access to oral health care. This is particularly important since good oral health is essential to good overall health. Anyone with a dental problem can walk into our Squire Hall urgent care clinic and receive treatment.

Each year, we provide free dental care to our nation’s military veterans during our Give Vets a Smile Day, and to children during our Give Kids a Smile Day. While most of our efforts are in Buffalo and Western New York, our students and faculty also travel to other states and other countries providing free dental care.

There are countless people who would not receive any dental care except for that provided by our students, faculty and staff.

Squire Hall is undergoing a $30 million renovation to its pre-clinical simulation center and patient clinics. How will the new facilities improve student education and patient care?

We finished construction of our new pre-clinical simulation center last year. It is double the size of the previous 30-year-old facility. The training that students receive in the center is state-of-the-art. There aren’t many facilities equal to it in the world. It’s one of the factors in our increasing application numbers.

We’re also starting renovations of our first-floor patient waiting area, funded by a $1 million donation from a longtime university benefactor, Stephanie Mucha. After that project, we’re building a new dental implant center. It will be the Buhite-DiMino Center for Implant Dentistry, supported by a $1 million gift from a grateful patient, Frank DiMino. The center will be named after a longtime faculty member and leader in implant dentistry, Robert Buhite.

The university has provided funding to replace 300 dental chairs in our clinics and to develop a special needs patient care clinic. This new clinic will both increase access to care for patients with special needs and provide our students with experience in treating special needs patients that they can carry into their dental practices.

The School of Dental Medicine has been a pioneer in dental research for decades. What current research initiatives are underway at the school?

We currently rank No. 11 in research funding from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. That success is due to our outstanding research faculty, especially faculty in the Department of Oral Biology.

We’re continuing the work of Robert Genco, who was a SUNY Distinguished Professor and internationally known investigator, through the UB Microbiome Center that he established. The center looks at communities of microorganisms in the body and how they maintain health, and how imbalances in the microbiome affect chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes and asthma.

We are also partnering with colleagues on campus and at other institutions, such as the Cleveland Clinic and the Joslin Diabetes Center, to explore the link between oral disease and heart disease and diabetes.

We’ve developed a new research core, the Optical Imaging and Analysis Facility in the Biomedical Research Building, that provides training and use of a variety of instrumentation, including spinning disc confocal microscopes, flow cytometers, gel imagers and qPCR systems. 

Besides basic science research, we have strong programs in biomaterials and clinical studies.

What skills do you foresee as the most impactful on the future of dental medicine?

Dental education is changing. Siloes are breaking down and there is a greater emphasis on integrating basic, clinical and behavioral science. There’s also a greater focus on the role of oral health on overall health.

In the delivery of dental care, a major change is the emergence of digital dentistry and robotics. Computerized orofacial imaging, digital intraoral scanning, software-guided treatment planning, and computer-assisted design and manufacturing have become commonplace and we’ve changed the curriculum to reflect this. For example, devices for robotic-guided placement of dental implants have been cleared for use in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration, and the expectation is that robotics will play an increasingly important role in the delivery of dental care.

Over the past several years, we’ve spent more than $3 million integrating digital dentistry into the curriculum and into the school’s clinics — from computer scanners and student self-assessment software in the pre-clinic to cone beam computed tomography for diagnosis and treatment planning in our new implant dentistry center.

The profession is in a transition from traditional methods to digital techniques. For the next few years, we need to prepare our students for both.