UCSF School of Dentistry Dean John Featherstone Announces Plan to Retire

John Featherstone stands in a UCSF dental clinic
John Featherstone, MSc, PhD, announced that he is stepping down as dean of the UCSF School of Dentistry after a decade of leading the school. Photo by Noah Berger

John Featherstone, MSc, PhD, has announced he will step down as dean of UC San Francisco’s School of Dentistry at the end of December 2017. He will also retire from his faculty position as professor of preventive and restorative dental sciences.

Featherstone says he’s planning to end his tenure a decade after assuming the school’s top job, allowing time for the chancellor to initiate the search for his successor. “I have always maintained that 10 years is as long as anyone should stay in such a position,” he explained in a message sent Monday to the school community.

“We have achieved many things in the last 10 years and advanced the School of Dentistry in many ways. At this time, we are well into the period of the second strategic plan of my tenure as dean and we have some very bold and exciting initiatives in progress,” he said. “I can assure you that I will tirelessly pursue our plans until the moment I step down.”

Under John’s guidance, the School of Dentistry has become an international leader in biomedical research, while expanding its offerings that has put it on firm footing to provide exceptional training and care into the future.

Chancellor Sam Hawgood, MBBS

As professor emeritus, Featherstone will continue his research on a voluntary basis and participate nationally with organizations related to cariology. He says he looks forward to pursuing his interests in music, outdoor activities, languages, travel and family, including grandchildren.

Under Featherstone’s leadership, the School of Dentistry has expanded scholarships and support for students and faculty, launched the UCSF Dental Center, initiated bold curriculum reform and maintained the school’s No. 1 ranking in National Institutes of Health research funding.

“Under John’s guidance, the School of Dentistry has become an international leader in biomedical research, while expanding its offerings that has put it on firm footing to provide exceptional training and care into the future,” says Chancellor Sam Hawgood, MBBS. “I am deeply grateful for his leadership, innovation and dedication to UCSF over the past decade.”

Over an active research career spanning four decades, Featherstone has specialized in the study of tooth decay, pioneered research on laser interactions with hard tissues and advanced an innovative approach to dentistry known as Caries Management by Risk Assessment (CAMBRA), which emphasizes prevention and early diagnosis rather than surgical procedures. He joined the UCSF faculty in 1995, and became the inaugural chair of the department of Preventive and Restorative Dental Sciences in 1999. He served as interim dean after the retirement of Charles Bertolami, DDS, DMedSci, in July 2007, and a year later was appointed dean.

Recruiting the Best of the Best

Throughout his tenure, Featherstone has focused on attracting outstanding students and faculty by increasing financial support through scholarships and endowed positions. This includes designing and launching the Dean’s Scholarship for Opportunity, doubling the number of recipients in the last few years and adding the Chancellor’s Scholarship for Opportunity endowed fund.

John Featherstone speaks with Tsegazeab Gessese at the 2014 Chancellor’s Reception and New Student Orientation Fair
Dean John Featherstone speaks with Tsegazeab Gessese at the 2014 Chancellor’s Reception and New Student Orientation Fair. One of Featherstone’s focuses during his decade as dean of the School of Dentistry has been attracting outstanding students. Photo by Cindy Chew 

“These scholarships have enabled us to recruit excellent underprivileged students who could not have otherwise come to UCSF,” Featherstone said.

The school has also added several endowed professorships and chairs through generous gifts from donors and matching funds from the University of California Office of the President, which have benefited faculty recruitment and retention.

In addition, in 2015, Featherstone created the new position of associate dean for diversity and inclusion and appointed George Taylor, DMD, MPH, DrPH, to the role.

“We felt the time was right for the School of Dentistry to expand our activities in fostering diversity and inclusion. These are values that I am personally passionate about, but I also believe it is important that the school as a whole do more in embracing these values,” Featherstone said.

Bold New Initiatives

In the last several years, Featherstone has spearheaded two major initiatives to improve patient care and advance education.

Exterior of the UCSF Dental Center building at UCSF’s Parnassus campus
The UCSF Dental Center launch was announced recently. The consolidated and enhanced patient services are expected to generate additional resources that can be reinvested into the school’s educational, clinical and research missions.

The UCSF Dental Center, formally launched this year, aims to provide seamless, patient-centered and cost-effective care in an environment that optimizes patient experiences and student learning. The consolidated and enhanced patient services are expected to generate additional resources that can be reinvested into the school’s educational, clinical and research missions.

The school is also deep in the process of developing a new curriculum to be implemented in 2019. A Curriculum Steering Committee was convened in 2015 and will present the proposed changes to the School of Dentistry community in a series of town hall meetings this month. The revised curriculum will emphasize evidence-based dentistry, learner-centered instruction, patient-centered care and incorporation of new technologies and patient management systems.

Excellence in Research

The School of Dentistry continued to excel in research under Featherstone’s leadership, with interdisciplinary research programs that extend beyond traditional dentistry. These include the Program in Craniofacial Biology and the newly formed Children’s Oral Health Research Program and Program in Oral Head and Neck Cancer.

In recent years, with the opening of newly renovated laboratory space in the Health Sciences West building, the school has succeeded in recruiting several outstanding new investigators.

And in 2016, the school again garnered the most NIH biomedical research funding of any dental school, a position it has maintained for more than two decades.

Distinguished Scholarship

Featherstone grew up in a small town in New Zealand. He attended Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and mathematics in 1964. He received an MSc in physical chemistry from the University of Manchester in England in 1975 and a PhD in chemistry from Victoria University of Wellington in 1977.

In 1980, he joined the Eastman Dental Center at the University of Rochester where he later became professor and chair of oral sciences. In 1995, he joined the faculty at UCSF and served as interim chair and then chair of the department of Preventive and Restorative Dental Sciences from 1996 to 2005.

John Featherstone, Janet Napolitano and Renee Navarro tour the Pre-Clinical Dentistry Simulation
UCSF School of Dentistry Dean John Featherstone (right) gives University of California President Janet Napolitano (center) a tour of UCSF’s Pre-Clinical Dentistry Simulation center in 2013. Photo by Cindy Chew

Featherstone has established a reputation as a distinguished scholar and expert in the study of tooth decay, or cariology. His research has illuminated many aspects of cariology, including fluoride mechanisms of action, de- and remineralization of teeth, apatite chemistry, salivary dysfunction, laser effects on dental hard tissues, and caries risk assessment and prevention.

In the early 2000s, his team developed the CAMBRA approach, a departure from the traditional “drill and fill” approach to dentistry that focuses on prevention and early diagnosis. CAMBRA is now widely taught and applied at academic dental clinics across the country, and Featherstone has been invited to advise on CAMBRA implementation internationally, including Japan, Argentina, Mexico, New Zealand, China and Israel.

His research has been recognized by numerous awards, including the International Association for Dental Research Distinguished Scientist Award, the Zsolnai Prize from the European Caries Research Organization, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the World Congress on Microdentistry, and the Norton Ross Award for Excellence in Clinical Research from the American Dental Association.

In 2015, Featherstone was named an honorary lifetime member of the American Dental Association and is also an honorary fellow of the Pierre Fauchard Society and the American College of Dentists.

“I would like to thank again everyone past and present, within the UCSF School of Dentistry and our many friends and supporters outside the School, for your participation and support to make this one of the most successful and outstanding dental schools in the world,” Featherstone said. “I will forever cherish my 23 years at UCSF very much.”