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Honorary Degree Recipients
Week of 31 May 2002 · Vol. V, No. 34

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Renaissance dentist sees beyond teeth

By Hope Green

Tip-offs to major illness often appear in the mouth: a lesion that won't heal might signal an immunodeficiency virus, while a tiny white or red spot could be a symptom of oral cancer. Dentists are increasingly seen as critical figures in the early detection of disease, and with innovative teaching methods, Laisheng Lee Chou prepares students for what he terms "a new world of dentistry."

Laisheng Lee Chou, winner of the 2002 Metcalf Cup and Prize for Excellence in Teaching, with his wife, Jialing Zhang. Photo by Vernon Doucette


Laisheng Lee Chou, winner of the 2002 Metcalf Cup and Prize for Excellence in Teaching, with his wife, Jialing Zhang. Photo by Vernon Doucette


"Unfortunately, many dentists look only at teeth," he says. "I train students to think of the whole patient. I tell them, 'Your patient's life might be in your hands.'"

A world-renowned expert in bone tissue engineering, molecular biocompatibility of implant materials, and HIV-associated oral lesions, Chou is a professor in the Goldman School of Dental Medicine's department of restorative sciences and biomaterials and director of its Oral AIDS Clinic, the largest referral clinic in the country for HIV-infected dental patients. He joined the faculty in 1994.

Students praise his clarity when teaching state-of-the-art, complex material.
"The ease with which Dr. Chou explains challenging material is a testament to his genuine brilliance as a teacher," a former student wrote in his letter of recommendation to the Metcalf Committee. A current graduate student noted of the Chinese-born professor, "Not only is he an expert within multiple areas of dentistry, he is also able to communicate his knowledge appropriately to his students."

Traditional dental programs, says Chou, have not given students adequate clinical experience to deal with nondental oral diseases, such as mucosal lesions, salivary gland disorders, and facial pain. Over the past seven years, he has established comprehensive teaching models in the Oral AIDS Clinic and Oral Medicine Clinic, where senior dental students assist with some of his most complicated cases.

In the classroom, Chou has created a case-based final exam, where every student receives a packet of information on eight patients, accompanied by color dental photographs, and answers 10 questions on their diagnosis and treatment. Chou provides correct answers to the exam a week later, conducts a postexam review session, and lets the students keep the test materials for future reference.

"The exam should be another learning process for students," he says. "It should reinforce what they have learned."

Dentistry being a multidisciplinary field, Chou encourages his students to conduct research with teams of professors from different subspecialties. Many of his students have won national and international awards for their projects and published papers in peer-reviewed journals.

"Dr. Chou is exceptional," one former student wrote, "because he is not just a star; he makes new stars and helps them shine."

Before joining the SDM faculty, Chou was a fellow at both the Medical Research Council of Canada and the University of Chicago, and was the principal investigator for the oral pathology division of the University of California's School of Dentistry in San Francisco. He taught at Shanghai Railway Medical University and Shanghai No. 2 Medical University in China, where he received his doctorate of dental medicine in 1978. Chou received postdoctoral diplomas in oral pathology and oral medicine from the University of California, San Francisco, and his Ph.D. in oral biology from the University of British Columbia.

He holds patents for a number of biomedical inventions, including one for scaffolds for bone-tissue engineering.


31 May 2002
Boston University
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