Dr. Irwin D. Mandel: Pioneer of Preventive Dentistry Dies at 89

Pioneer in Preventive Dentistry

Professor Irwin D. Mandel (1922-2011)

Dentist and pioneering researching in the biochemistry of saliva, Dr. Iwrin Daniel Mandel, professor emiritus at Columbia University, died on May 26 in Montclair, N.J. at the age of 89.

Born in Brooklyn in 1922, Dr. Mandel received his degree in dentistry from the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine.  Much of today’s philosophy of modern dentistry towards preventive measures in decreasing rates of decay and periodontal disease are based on Dr. Mandel’s research into preventive protocols for dental home care and  the chemistry of saliva and the changes in salivary makeup that take place with different oral diseases. It was also Dr. Mandel’s ground breaking work that linked acidity levels in saliva to the promotion of decay. He became one of the first scientists whose pioneering research on protective proteins found in saliva, lay the foundation for what today is known as the ‘innate immune system’, preformed protein elements found throughout the body, much like the immune system and its antibodies,  that can kill bacteria.

Always a visionary, Dr. Mandel was most paramount in pushing dentistry out of the repair business, and into the preventive realm. It was his vision and research  that moved practitioners to educating patients  to move from casual brushing to a daily regimen that includes the use of dental floss to remove plaque, as well as the application of fluoride from different sources, including water, toothpastes, mouthwashes and gels, thereby increasing resistivity of  tooth enamel to decay.  His work also promoted people making regular dental visits for checkups and removal of hardened plaque.  In speaking of his pioneering work, Dr. Mandel told The New York Times in 1971: “We’d like everybody to take advantage of the new procedures developed by dental science. But we know from experience that many people will not, just as many people continue to smoke and to eat diets too rich in fats despite the medical warnings against such practices.”

As a researcher, author, and teacher, Dr. Irwin Mandel was the author of more than 200 scientific articles and 17 books or book chapters.  Affectionately known as, and reflecting his own sense of humor, Dr. Mandel had been referred to as “the General of the Salivation Army.”

Dr. Mandel, was the winner of the first American Dental Association’s Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Dental Research in 1985.  His accomplishments included being the preventive dentistry consultant to NASA’s manned mission to Mars project.

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