Dr. Joel Epstein: A Leader in Oral Medicine and Oral Oncology

Dr. Joel EpsteinNothing speaks like results. Just ask University of Saskatchewan College of Dentistry alumnus Dr. Joel Epstein.

The renowned dentist has published more than 600 times in the areas of oncology, infectious disease, facial pain, and other more general areas of oral medicine. Currently residing in Los Angeles, Epstein is the country’s (United States’) leader in oral oncology publications. His contributions to the literature take the form of abstracts, papers, textbooks, and book chapters.

Epstein is also active in clinical trial research. The busy dentist completed 34 trials in oral medicine between 1978 and 2007.

When Epstein is not conducting groundbreaking research or developing literature, he is providing leadership on prestigious boards and professional societies, educating young minds in dental schools, and treating patients.

Epstein’s unparalleled contribution to oral medicine started in his hometown of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. His decision to pursue dentistry at the U. of S. was made “on the medical basis of the program and the broad clinical experience it offered dental students.”

In 1976, Dr. Epstein was granted his D.M.D. with Great Distinction from the University of Saskatchewan.

That honour was the first of many the talented dentist would receive in the years to follow.

Between 1972 and 1976, Epstein received the Joseph Vickar Prize in Dentistry, the Canadian Society of Oral Surgeons Book Award, the Canadian Society of Periodontology Prize, the Canadian Society of Oral Surgeons Book Award, the American Academy of Dental Radiology Award, the International Association of Dental Students Competition for Original Articles (First Prize), and the Faculty of Dentistry Gold Medal.

Epstein recalls that his most critical realization during his time at the U. of S. as a dental student and later faculty member was that “It is through experience in pursuit of better patient care, that you are led to seeking improved care and ’best care based upon evidence.’” This insight would propel him to success throughout his career in oral medicine.

Upon receiving his D.M.D., Epstein was immediately employed as a clinical instructor at the U. of S., through 1976 and 1977. Current U. of S. College of Dentistry professor Dr. Dean Kolbinson recalls that his instructor “brought oral medicine expertise that previously did not exist at the U. of S.  Epstein got the university thinking about oral medicine.”

A few years later, in 1979, Epstein received his M.S. degree in Dentistry and a certificate in Oral Medicine from the University of Washington in Seattle. Epstein was also a lecturer for the University of Washington between 1977 and 1979.

Epstein then returned to Saskatoon and was appointed as an assistant professor and director for the division of Diagnosis at the U. of S. College of Dentistry from 1979 to 1981. Between 1981 and 1982, the U. of S. further benefited from Epstein’s expertise while he served as associate professor and acting head of the department of Diagnosis and Oral Radiology and also as a visiting professor at the College of Dentistry. In addition, he was employed as medical staff by the then University Hospital between 1979 and 1981.

Many of his peers at the U. of S. also took notice of Epstein’s intellectual gifts and invaluable contribution to the profession. Prior to deciding which graduate school to attend, Kolbinson consulted with Epstein because he was “the only one (at that time) who had the training in oral medicine, and he was a very knowledgeable and credible source.” Recalling his subsequent decision to follow in Epstein’s footsteps, Kolbinson notes that he was influenced by Epstein’s “convincing argument” that the University of Washington’s graduate program in oral medicine was “at least as good if not better than anything else out there.”

In the years to follow, Epstein received many more prestigious awards and distinctions including appointments as a Fellow of the College of Dental Surgeons of Canada in Oral Medicine/Oral Pathology and a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. In addition, he was appointed to the Diplomate American Board of Oral Medicine and was an examiner and president of the American Board of Oral Medicine. Epstein also was professor and head of the department of Oral Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences at the University of Chicago College of Dentistry.

Currently at the Chicago Cancer Center College of Medicine, Epstein is a professor in the department of Oral Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences; he also is director of the Interdisciplinary Program in Oral Cancer Biology, Prevention and Treatment as well as adjunct professor in the department of Otolaryngology and head of surgery at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Previously, he was on staff at Rush Medical Center and Advocate Illinois Masonic Hospital in Chicago.

His career postings have also included the following: professor of Oral Medicine and director of both the graduate program in Oral Medicine and the D.E.C.O.D. (Dental Care for the Disabled) program at the University of Washington in Seattle; head of the medical/dental staff of the British Columbia Cancer Agency; head of the department of Dentistry at Vancouver Hospital and Health Sciences Centre; staff positions at other teaching hospitals in Vancouver; and clinical professor on the faculty of Dentistry at the University of British Columbia.

Further, he currently is a consultant at both the City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte, C.A., and Cedars-Sinai Health Sciences Center in Los Angeles.  In addition, he has consulting oral medicine practices in Vancouver, Los Angeles, Bellingham, and Chicago.

Epstein’s private practices in oral medicine are dedicated to providing patients with the most up-to-date and best evidence-based care.  The accomplished dentist attributes this mandate as stemming from his education and early academic career at the U. of S. College of Dentistry: that “best care” is based upon evidence. Nothing speaks like results.

Epstein currently resides in Los Angeles with his wife of 37 years, Geena. They have three children: Joshua is a pharmaceutical economist at Baxter International based out of Malibu, California; Matthew is a senior resident in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery residing in Hoboken, New Jersey; and, Daniel is a social entrepreneur and the President/CEO of Unreasonablegroup in Boulder, Colorado.

By Debora Senger
Alumni and Stewardship Officer
College of Dentistry