PhD in Oral Biology, Program in Biomedical Sciences

Applicants interested in the PhD program in Oral Biology must apply to the Program in Biomedical Sciences (PiBS).

A PhD in Oral Biology, Program in Biomedical Sciences is offered by the Department of Translational Dental Medicine at Boston University’s Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine. The PhD program in Oral Biology recruits students with backgrounds in the life and basic sciences who are interested in additional advanced training in dental and medical sciences.

The aim of this program is to educate students in modern scientific approaches to oral biology and oral disease. The PhD program is designed for the student whose primary goal is to pursue a career in oral biology research. The oral cavity is unique regarding its microbiology, connective tissue structures, and host responses. Moreover, oral diseases present unsolved scientific challenges and novel biological phenomena. The importance of understanding the oral biology of diseases whose incidence and severity increase with age is clearly understood within the context of current demographic trends.

Research Topics

Among the research topics explored in Oral Biology are:

  • Protein-mineral interactions and their role in the function of hard tissues
  • Oral host defense mechanisms in periodontal disease
  • Intercellular signaling in oral tissues and cells
  • Regulation of connective tissue accumulation in mineralized and nonmineralized oral tissues
  • Salivary gland development
  • Mechanisms of tumor suppression
  • Molecular and cellular aspects of oral cancer to develop novel therapeutic opportunities
  • Regulation of genes
  • Genetic mouse models of inherited human oral pathologies to determine molecular mechanisms of disease
  • Osteocyte biology and systemic interactions
  • Bone mechanobiology and tissue regeneration
  • Cell stress and regulation of gene expression
  • Mechanisms of diabetic bone abnormalities
  • Novel roles and mechanisms of lysyl oxidases in cancer and fibrosis

In addition, research projects may include clinical components focusing on inflammation, periodontal disease, tissue fibrosis, aging, developmental defects, and oral cancer. These studies will be carried out in collaboration with the clinical faculty at Clinical Research Center, located at the Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine.

Selection & Duration

The PhD program selects candidates who clearly express the desire to pursue a career in research that is related to oral and craniofacial tissues and pathologies. The PhD program requires a minimum of five years, with extensive didactic and research training. The PhD in Oral Biology, Program in Biomedical Sciences is also available to qualified MD/PhD students after completion of two preclinical years of medical school. All students will submit a written dissertation describing their research carried out under the direction of a member of the Program faculty.

Learning Outcomes

The following learning objectives are to be fulfilled by all Oral Biology PhD candidates. Students will:

  • Gain in-depth scientific background and broad knowledge of the biomedical sciences through coursework and seminars, and by preparing for and passing comprehensive qualifying examinations.
  • Become proficient in designing and implementing experimental approaches to answer specific questions in oral biology or in related biomedical sciences.
  • Learn how to critically evaluate the scientific literature, and will become proficient in communicating analyses of scientific studies both orally and in writing.
  • Contribute to the body of scientific knowledge and advance their respective fields through their research activities, as seen ultimately in publications stemming from their dissertation.

Requirements and Curriculum

Post-Bachelor’s Candidates

Post-bachelor’s PhD candidates will complete at least 40 credits of didactic coursework and credits in dissertation directed laboratory research for a total of 64 credits. It is anticipated that most candidates will require five years to fulfill these requirements.

Additional credits to complete the 40 credits didactic course requirements will be obtained from at least two courses in biochemistry, biophysics, physiology, anatomy, microbiology, or other graduate medical science courses with permission from the instructor, the advisor, and the PhD program director.

Post-Graduate Didactic Coursework

Students already holding a master’s degree or dental and medical degrees may be permitted to complete 12–16 credits of didactic coursework. This requires specific approval from the Director of Graduate Studies for the PhD in Oral Biology, and must be specifically requested by the student. The choice of courses will depend on the specific background and training of the student.

The course curriculum consists of the following core didactic courses, plus supplementary courses selected from the following list of graduate school courses offered by the School of Dental Medicine. Course descriptions taught by the School of Dental Medicine follow the course listings.


Required Courses

  • GMS FC 701 Protein Structure, Catalysts, and Interaction
  • GMS FC 702 Structure and Function of the Genome
  • GMS FC 703 Architecture and Dynamics of the Cell
  • GMS FC 704 Mechanisms of Cell Communication
  • GMS OB 763 Intro to Oral Biology 1
  • GMS OB 764 Intro to Oral Biology 2
  • GMS OB 766 Oral Immunology and Microbiology
  • GMS OB 700 Applied Statistics or equivalent
  • GMS OB 800 Advanced Oral Biology
  • GMS OB 805 Oral Biology seminars
  • GMS OB 806 Oral Biology seminars

Additional Courses

  • Biophysics
  • Microbiology
  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Division Courses

Note that we offer Advanced Oral Biology (SDM OB 800) every two years. This allows for a class size of six PhD candidates from the Division of Oral Biology. Thus, some PhD candidates take this course in year three instead of year two. If we find that the class size is greatly increased due to course enrollment by interested students from other Graduate Medical Sciences departments, we will consider offering this course every year.

Graduation Requirements

Qualifying Examination

Successful candidates will pass a comprehensive/qualifying examination by the end of the second year. The qualifying examination committee consists of five core faculty members of the Division of Oral Biology. It meets yearly to evaluate students’ performance and to design the examination. The examination includes written and oral components. The same committee administers both the written and oral components of the exam. The written component is given at the end of the first year and covers knowledge in biochemistry, oral microbiology, and topics covered in Basic Processes in Oral Biology (GMS OB 763 and 764). The written exam consists of short answer and essay questions. The oral exam is given upon the completion of the second year. The exam is designed for each student taking into consideration the courses taken. The two-hour oral exam covers both knowledge and ability to critically evaluate current research in oral biology. Recent scientific papers are chosen and assigned by the committee in advance of the exam.


Students are required to maintain a minimum of a B average in all course work. Six credits of C+ or lower will result in termination of the student from the program.


During the first year, each student is required to complete at least three research rotations in the program faculty laboratories. This is supervised and coordinated by the Chair of the Student Affairs Committee, who will serve as advisor to all PhD candidates prior to choosing their research advisor. By the end of the first year, each student is required to request a research advisor and a research topic as directed by the Student Affairs Committee.


Candidates for the PhD are required to submit a written dissertation describing original research and demonstrating the development of independent scholarship. Dissertation research is conducted under the supervision and guidance of the research advisor, a member of the faculty (see Faculty Listing).

Assignment of students to laboratories by the Student Affairs Committee and the Department of Molecular & Cell Biology

In consultation with the advisor, a student selects a minimum of four additional faculty members to act as the Dissertation Advisory Committee for a total of at least five members. This committee has the power to recommend to the Student Affairs Committee that a student be placed on probation. If the student fails to meet requirements specified by the Student Affairs Committee in consultation with the Dissertation Advisory Committee, the student may be dismissed from the PhD Program in Oral Biology without award of the PhD.


Students are required to defend their dissertations at final oral examinations. They are expected to demonstrate expertise in their chosen field of specialization and to provide documentation of their contribution to the accumulated body of knowledge. The oral examination is conducted by the Dissertation Committee composed of at least five members of the School of Dental Medicine and the Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine faculty. It is expected that members of the candidates Dissertation Advisory Committee will also serve on the Dissertation Committee. One member of the Dissertation Committee must be from a department other than the Division of Oral Biology. In some cases, at the discretion of the Chair of the Dissertation of the Committee, one of the five Dissertation Committee members could be appointed from outside the Boston University’s Dental School and Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine.

Students who fail to meet any requirement for the PhD may be dismissed from the PhD Program without award of any degree. Students can petition the GMS Student Affairs Committee for award of the MSD. The award of the MSD depends upon didactic and research accomplishments and will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Award of the MSD requires, in addition, approval by the Dean of the Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine.

Application & Admission

The PhD in Oral Biology, Program in Biomedical Sciences is administered jointly through the Department of Translational Dental Medicine at the Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine and Graduate Medical Sciences at the BU Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine. Applications are to be submitted through the Program in Biomedical Sciences (PiBS). Members of the Department of Translational Dental Medicine serve on the Graduate Medical Sciences PhD Admissions Committee that supports the Program in Biomedical Sciences.


Requirements for admission to the PhD in Oral Biology, Program in Biomedical Sciences are identical to those for all departmental PhDs administered by Graduate Medical Sciences as described in the Academic Policies and Procedures section of the Graduate Medical Sciences catalog. Principal requirements are summarized as follows:

  • Students, who have completed an undergraduate degree, preferably with a major in the biological, chemical, or physical sciences, as well as master, dental, and medical degree holders, will be eligible for the PhD program.
  • A minimum of 28 credits, or the equivalent, of courses in the biological and the physical sciences is required.
  • Applicants whose native language is not English must take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and must achieve a score of at least 100 (internet version).

Projected Enrollment

An enrollment of approximately three full-time students per year is anticipated. This will result in a program as large as, and not exceeding, 15 total enrolled students in five years.


The PhD program is administered principally by the Student Affairs Committee. This committee is comprised of all core faculty from the Department of Translational Dental Medicine, coordinates laboratory rotations, and addresses student and faculty concerns. This committee works closely with the Qualifying Exam Committee. Dr. Philip Trackman is currently chair of the division’s Student Affairs Committee and the qualifying exam committee.

Relationship to Existing Programs

The PhD in Oral Biology, Program in Biomedical Sciences was developed to address critical issues relating to oral biology and medicine and to educate students to apply the most sophisticated basic science approaches to oral health issues. These include: structure, function, and developmental modeling of exocrine salivary glands; mineralization and microbiology of oral hard tissues; and issues relating to immune responses and oral non-immune defense systems, and the etiology of oral cancer. Because of its scope, and because within the University there is no program concerned with the molecular and cellular basis of oral health issues, the PhD in Oral Biology, Program in Biomedical Sciences is unique at Boston University.

In particular, we have considered possible overlaps with biochemistry, microbiology, and immunology. Due to the uniqueness of the oral cavity with respect to non-immune defense systems, oral microbiology, salivary gland biology, and aspects of mineralized and soft tissues in the oral cavity, we conclude that there are no conflicting overlaps. The need for PhD programs in Oral Biology has been emphasized by the American Association of Dental Schools since 1986. Official recognition of the emergence of Oral Biology as a unique discipline occurred in the form of published curriculum guidelines for advanced Oral Biology degree programs [Journal of Dental Education (1986)]. Thus, the proposed program will complement the existing PhD programs at the Medical Center by applying knowledge and basic science methodologies to the unique questions posed in oral biology.