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.

Application & Admission

The PhD program selects candidates who clearly express the desire to pursue a career in basic oral biology research. 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 pre-clinical 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.

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 School of Medicine. Applications are handled by Graduate Medical Sciences at the School of Medicine. Members of the Department of Translational Dental Medicine serve on the PhD Admissions Committee of Graduate Medical Sciences 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 catalogue. 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’s, 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 are required to have taken the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) General Test.
  • In addition, a GRE subject test in a basic science field such as Biology, Chemistry, or Biochemistry and Molecular Biology is encouraged.
  • 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 95 (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.

Program Requirements

Postbachelor’s Candidates

Postbachelor’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 of 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.

Postgraduate 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 Graduate Medical Sciences’ Student Affairs Committee, 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.


Required Courses

  • GMS OB 700 Applied Statistics or equivalent
  • GMS OB 761 Oral Microbiology
  • GMS OB 763 Basic Processes in Oral Biology I
  • GMS OB 764 Basic Processes in Oral Biology II
  • GMS OB 800 Advanced Oral Biology
  • GMS OB 805 Oral Biology seminars
  • GMS OB 806 Oral Biology seminars
  • 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

Additional Courses

  • Biophysics
  • Microbiology
  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Division Courses

Completion is not tracked by credit accumulation but by successful completion of individual courses and duration requirements.

Note that we offer Advanced Oral Biology (GSM 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 from 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 coursework. 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 Chairman of the Student Affairs Committee, who will serve as advisor to all PhD candidates prior to choosing his/her 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.

Assignment of students to laboratories is made by the Student Affairs Committee and the Department of Translational Dental Medicine.

In consultation with the advisor, a student selects a minimum of four faculty members to act as the Dissertation Advisory Committee. 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 Dental and Medical School faculty. It is expected that members of the candidate’s 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 Committee, one of the five Dissertation Committee members could be appointed from outside the Boston University Dental and Medical Schools.

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 Graduate Medical Sciences’ 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.


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, and it 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 Graduate Medical Sciences’ Student Affairs Committee, and of 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; bacterial and fungal pathogenesis; and issues relating to immune responses and oral non-immune defense systems. 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.