PhD in Orofacial & Skeletal Biology


Use the links below to find out more about the PhD in Orofacial & Skeletal Biology Program.

For more program information or to schedule an appointment, please email Dr. Paola Divieti Pajevic.

Program Description

Outlines the importance of research in the oral cavity and specifies ideal candidates for acceptance into the program.

Research Areas

Describes the diverse research topics and expertise available for dissertation research.

Requirements and Curriculum

Describes requirements and curriculum for Post-Bachelor PhD Candidates and Master’s degree, Dental or Medical degree candidates.

Course Descriptions

Provides detailed course descriptions, credits and anticipated semesters.


Graduation Requirements

Outlines graduation requirements for all students.

Faculty PhD Mentors

Provides a list of PhD Faculty Mentors in Translational Dental Medicine and links to their Profile pages where you will find more information about their background, expertise and publications.

Program Description

A PhD in Orofacial & Skeletal Biology is offered by the Department of Translational Dental Medicine at Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine (GSDM). This program is administered through the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences of Boston University School of Medicine and is part of the Program in Biomedical Sciences (PiBS).

This PhD program trains students whose goals are to pursue research in pathologies relevant to biological interactions between dental or oral structures with systemic influences originating from other organ systems or from the environment. The PhD will typically require five years, with extensive didactic and research training. Accepted applicants will be supported by scholarships and stipends. Training enables graduates to pursue academic and commercial positions, or further postdoctoral research. The outcomes for successful candidates has included subsequent clinical specialty training leading to a fulfilling career in clinical practice combined with research, fundamental biological research, or a combination of both in academic and commercial settings in the US and elsewhere.

The program:

  • Recruits students with strong backgrounds in the life and basic sciences who are interested in additional advanced training in dental and medical sciences. Applicants should have a BS in a life science. DMDs and MDs or equivalent can be eligible depending on the strength of scientific training. Dentists with weaker scientific training may be eligible for admission to the DSc in Oral Biology rather that the PhD Program.
  • Aims to educate students in modern state of the art scientific approaches to oral biology and oral disease research.
  • Accommodates and trains students whose primary goal is to pursue research careers either in academia, industry or clinical research.

Boston University Research Environment
The University is located in Boston, one of the most dynamic cities for biomedical research. The University itself is a premier research institution with a sophisticated core research infrastructure and an internationally recognized faculty in respective fields. The environment at Boston University Medical Campus and also including faculty members at the Charles River campus is unusually collaborative and provides students with a variety of learning and research opportunities that are not typically available elsewhere.

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Research Areas

A variety of research topics are available to PhD candidates and include, but are not limited to, the topics listed below. Note that interests of the faculty evolve over time, and that additional areas of research typically develop related to those listed.

  • Molecular and cellular aspects of oral cancer to develop novel therapeutic opportunities
  • Sjοgren’s syndrome research
  • Osteocyte biology, obesity and systemic interactions
  • Osteocytes as a regulator of bone structure
  • Diabetic bone disease
  • Osteoarthritis and temporomandibular joint dysfunction
  • Fibrosis and connective tissue biology

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

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Requirements and Curriculum

Eligibility for Admission

Requirements for admission to the Orofacial & Skeletal Biology PhD program are identical to those for all departmental PhD degrees administered by the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences as described  in the Academic Policies and Procedures. 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
  • A minimum of 28 credits, or the equivalent, of courses in the biological and physical sciences is
  • 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 exam). The GRE is currently still required for all applicants, and will become optional in the near future.
  • Applicants must apply through the Program in Biomedical Sciences website (PiBS) at the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences.

Post-Bachelors PhD Candidates

Post-bachelors PhD candidates will complete 40 credits of didactic course work and credits in dissertation directed laboratory research for a total of 64 credits. Most candidates require five years to fulfill these requirements.

Additional credits will be obtained from at least two courses in biochemistry, biophysics, physiology, anatomy, microbiology, or other Division courses with permission from the instructor, the advisor, and the PhD Program Director.

The following learning objectives are to be fulfilled by all Orofacial & Skeletal Biology PhD Candidates:

  • Learning Goal/Objective #1: 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.
  • Learning Goal/Objective #2: Students will become proficient in designing and implementing experimental approaches to answer specific questions in oral biology or in related biomedical sciences.
  • Learning Goal/Objective #3: Students will learn how to critically evaluate the scientific literature, and will become proficient in communicating analyses of scientific studies both orally and in writing.

Master’s degree – OR – Dental and Medical Degree Candidates

Students already holding a Master’s degree or dental and medical degrees may be permitted to complete 12-16 credits of didactic course work. This requires approval from the Student Affairs Committee, and must be specifically requested by the student. The choice of courses will depend on the candidate’s background and training.

The course curriculum consists of the following core required didactic courses. Additional courses to complete the required 40 didactic course credits are to be selected from those offered by General Medical Sciences (GMS) of the School of Medicine that are found on the GMS website.

Required Courses

  • GMS OB 700 (or equivalent): Biostatistics
  • GMS OB 763: Basic Processes in Oral Biology (A)
  • GMS OB 764: Basic Processes in Oral Biology (B)
  • GMS OB 766: Oral Immunology & Oral Microbiology
  • GMS OB 800: Advanced Oral Biology
  • GMS OB 805/806: Oral Biology Seminar
  • GMS FC 701: Protein Structure, Catalysts & Interaction
  • GMS FC 702: Structure & Function of the Genome
  • GMS FC 703: Architecture & Dynamics of the Cell
  • GMS FC 704: Mechanisms of Cell Communication

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Required Course Descriptions

GMS OB 700: Biostatistics

Introduces the concepts and techniques of biostatistics used in dental research. Emphasizes the fundamentals of statistical logic and presents the basic principles of experimental design, statistical inference, and probability. Examples from current basic sciences research, survey research, and clinical trials augment the presentation of statistical theory. (2 credits, Fall semester)

GMS OB 763 and 764: Basic Processes in Oral Biology

An introductory survey course that examines biological processes at the cellular and molecular levels. The course provides a basis to understand the events that regulate inflammation; wound healing; bone formation and resorption; salivary proteins and physiology; tooth development, eruption, and movement; and fluoride action. (4 credits, 2 semesters)

GMS OB 766: Oral Immunology and Microbiology

This course has two modules: oral immunology and oral microbiology. The purpose of this course is to present concepts of oral immunobiology. The course covers the basics of the immune reaction from a cellular level to the entire host response as they pertain to the etiology and pathogenesis of the disease processes in the oral cavity. This course will relate basic science findings to clinical situations with an emphasis on treatment modalities for delivering clinical care. It provides for an understanding of disease pathogenesis so that an informed basis of therapy can be recommended. The course examines the complex microbial ecology of the mouth, with focus on the key microbes involved in dental diseases. The lectures will include the basic aspects of oral biofilm formation and microbial pathogenicity, with focus on the microbial diversity involved in caries, periodontal and periapical infections. There will be a short analysis of diagnostic microbial identification, as well as treatment modalities.

The goal of the second module is to link microbial clinical problems with basic infectious disease concepts that provides the scientific basis for approaches to treatments. (2 credits, 1 semester)

GMS OB 800: Advanced Oral Biology

This advanced course explores in-depth current topics in oral biology research. The format of the course consists primarily of an even split between formal didactic lectures, and analysis of experimental approaches and methods from current literature in a group-discussion “journal” club format in which papers from current literature are assigned and discussed. This course is designed to provide students with basic knowledge and to develop critical thinking abilities while being exposed to state of the art research technologies and the most currently relevant research topics. (4 credits, 1 semester)

GMS OB 805 & 806: Oral Biology Seminar

All PhD candidates will take the seminar course in which the presiding faculty member will assign the class a journal article that is then presented by one member of the class followed by an active and critical discussion of the article by all class participants, led by the presenting student and the faculty member. The minimum requirement is 4 semesters for Ph.D. degree completion. (2 credits, 2 semesters)


Required Core Curriculum Courses

GMS FC 701: Protein Structure, Catalysts and Interaction

The first module of the Foundations in Biomedical Science course will provide students with a quantitative understanding of protein structure, function, post-translational modification and the turnover of proteins in the cell. In addition, students will gain facility with thermodynamics, catalysts, kinetics and binding equilibria as they apply to proteins and also to other molecules in biological systems (e.g. nucleic acids, lipids, vitamins, etc.). The quantitative aspects of the module will be reinforced with two graded problem sets that students will peer-mentor in breakout sessions. One breakout session will introduce key elements in bioinformatics including protein sequence searching and three dimensional molecular graphics in a problem-based format. Assigned text book readings will reinforce and expand upon material covered in the lectures. Reading from current and classic literature will also be used. Lecture notes and figures will be available to students online. Students will be evaluated based on their performance on one quiz, one exam two problem sets and participation in the breakout sessions. (2 credits, Fall semester, 1st year)

GMS FC 702: Structure and Function of the Genome

The second module of the Foundations in Biomedical Science course will focus on the mechanisms of biological processes that influence the inheritance, regulation and utilization of genes. Genetic and genomic, molecular, cell biological, and biochemical experimental approaches to understanding these processes will be explored. In addition, the possibilities of utilizing these technologies in medical treatments will be discussed. The course is aimed toward first year PhD students in the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences. The class will be taught by members of the Division in a variety of Departments utilizing a combination of traditional lectures and discussion sections focusing on primary research to total 7 hours of class time per week. Supplementary study materials used will be made available online on “Blackboard” to aid students in their review of the material. Reading materials will primarily be taken from current literature but will be supplemented by handouts supplied by the faculty. Students will be evaluated on their performance on take home exams and discussion sections. These exercises will be designed to test the students’ ability to think critically and apply genetic concepts to biological problems. (2 credits, Fall semester, 1st year)

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.

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Graduation Requirements

Qualifying Exam

Successful candidates will pass a comprehensive qualifying examination by the end of the second year. The Qualifying Examination Committee consists of at least 3 core faculty members of the Department faculty. The Committee meets yearly to evaluate students’ performance and to design the examination. The examination includes written and oral components. The  written  component  consists  of  short  answer and essay questions, and  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 oral exam is given upon completion of the second year. The exam is designed for each student, taking into consideration the completed courses. For example, as GMS OB 800 is offered every two years, some students will not have completed the courses by the end of the second year. Elective course(s) selected by each student are also considered.

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 asked to read and present an oral critique of the paper. This is followed by a question period that includes testing each candidate’s knowledge of biology, especially relevant to systemic interactions with oral structures, and the candidate’s critique of the assigned paper. The examination committee administers both the written and oral components of the exam.

Students who fail a qualifying exam will  be  given  one additional  opportunity to pass a new version  of the failed exam. A second failure, of either the written or oral qualifying exam, will result in termination of the student   from   the   PhD   Program in   Oral   Biology.  Students may petition the Student Affairs Committee for the award of the MSD based on performance in didactic courses. Award of the MSD will be decided on a case by case basis, based on  the student’s performance in didactic courses and research,  and also requires approval from the Dean of the Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine. Petitions for an award of an MS degree from another GMS department may also be possible and is determined on a case-by-case basis.

Research Requirements and Dissertation Committee

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. Dissertation research is conducted under the supervision and guidance of the research advisor, a member or the faculty (see Faculty Listing). Assignment of students to laboratories by the Student Assignment Committee is made at a summer faculty meeting of the Division of Oral Biology. In consultation with the advisor, a student selects a minimum of four additional faculty members to act as the Dissertation Advisory Committee. The Dissertation Advisory Committee meets with the candidate annually to monitor the progress of research and course work. 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 degree.

Candidates for PhD degrees are required to submit a written dissertation describing original research that demonstrates independent scholarship.

Students are required to defend their dissertations at final oral examinations. Students 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 GSDM and Boston University School of Medicine 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 Department faculty. 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 of the University.

Students who fail to meet any requirement for the PhD degree may be dismissed from the PhD Program without award of any degree. Students can petition the Student Affairs Committee for award of the MSD and an MS degree. The award of Master’s degrees 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.

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Core faculty currently performing research relevant to systemic and oral biology are listed below. Additional faculty members from the Boston University Medical Campus who hold may GMS faculty membership may serve as mentors, depending on their research interests and details regarding their departmental affiliations.

Maria Kukuruzinska

Photo of Maria KukuruzinskaProfessor

Associate Dean for Research

Dr. Kukuruzinska’s research interests are summarized at



Philip Trackman

Photo of Philip TrackmanProfessor Emeritus

Dr. Trackman’s research interests are summarized at




Paola Divieti Pajevic

Photo of Paola Divieti PajevicAssociate Professor

Director of Graduate Programs

Dr. Divieti Pajevic’s research interests are summarized at




Manish Bais

Photo of Manish BaisAssistant Professor

Dr. Bais research is focused on mechanisms of osteoarthritis and oral cancer. See



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Further Information

Any questions regarding the PhD Program in Oral Biology can be directed to Dr. Philip Trackman (