Academics, Campus News

Meet Dr. Janet Guthmiller, dentistry dean

The nationally recognized teacher and mentor talks about putting community first through oral health care and education.

Janet Guthmiller
At the American Dental Education Association national meeting, said Dr. Janet Guthmiller, “when our faculty presented on our new curriculum and how we are assessing students, the presentation rooms were completely filled; it was standing room only.”

This story continues The Well’s series of Q&As with Carolina’s newest deans.

Dr. Janet Guthmiller is dean of the UNC Adams School of Dentistry and the Claude A. Adams Distinguished Professor. In a homecoming of sorts in October 2022, she left her position as dean at the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Dentistry to return to Carolina, where she worked from 2007-2014 as associate dean of academic affairs and professor of periodontology.

Guthmiller’s research has focused on molecular biological studies of periodontal pathogens and expression and function of innate antimicrobials. She’s been recognized nationally for her teaching and mentoring. A diplomate of the American Board of Periodontology and fellow of the American College of Dentists and the International College of Dentists, Guthmiller also serves in leadership roles in many professional organizations.

What’s one surprising thing you’ve learned about your school since you began?

One thing I’ve learned since joining the Adams School of Dentistry team is the significant amount of work put into creating a new curriculum for our students and the national attention it is receiving. It really came to the forefront recently at the American Dental Education Association national meeting. When our faculty presented on our new curriculum and how we are assessing students, the presentation rooms were completely filled; it was standing room only. Everyone across the nation is so excited to hear about the great work the Adams School of Dentistry faculty are doing, including enacting the new curriculum and the new assessment piece. The faculty have worked hard on this and should be proud of what they’ve accomplished.

How is your school fulfilling Carolina’s mission of teaching, research and public service?

The Adams School of Dentistry definitely reflects the University’s tripartite mission.

  • We are educating students and residents to become successful oral health care providers who can go into communities and not only provide outstanding oral health care, but also serve as leaders. We take our mission of teaching seriously, and we’re excited about the curriculum that better integrates our dental hygiene students with our DDS students and residents.
  • We are excited to strengthen our research platform. We have a number of existing collaborations with investigators across campus, but we’re also looking to the future and forming new partnerships and collaborations. We are exploring the role oral health research plays across campus and that role as it relates to overall health. Oral health is pivotal to general health. Collaborating with individuals in medicine and public health and other programs will lead to amazing outcomes.
  • As we focus on service to our community, we offer a phenomenal opportunity for people to come to the school and get their oral health care in our clinics. Our students, faculty and staff also support communities throughout the state. The Dentistry in Service to Community Program is a unique extramural initiative that combines service-learning with oral health care delivery. Its primary focus is on serving marginalized and underserved populations. Participating learners gain valuable clinical and nonclinical experiences that expand their understanding of the oral health care system. These types of clinics allow us to provide wonderful services to citizens throughout North Carolina, especially those who are underserved.

What’s an example of how the school is addressing a current top priority?

A top priority for Adams School of Dentistry is recruiting and retaining amazing faculty and staff and recruiting amazing students. As we think about that as a priority, we ask ourselves: “How do we create an environment that we know will excite people?” We want to draw people to us, make this a place where people want to come to work and learn, where they feel rewarded and they feel valued. Every day, we look at how we treat people, how we value our people and how we recognize members of our Adams School of Dentistry family. To help our recruitment processes, we’re forming an Ambassadors’ Club to become even more welcoming to people considering coming to Adams School of Dentistry.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

I feel so privileged to be the dean of the Adams School of Dentistry because I get to help make other people’s dreams come true. Whether it’s our faculty, our staff or our amazing students, I ask myself: “How can I contribute to fulfilling their dreams? How do I empower others and provide networking opportunities and professional growth opportunities?” It’s what gets me out of bed in the morning and makes me excited to come to work. I also really love the diversity of what I am able to do, from renovating spaces to creating a contemporary curriculum to working alongside incredible faculty, staff and students. I want to make sure our education, research and service programs are fulfilling the mission we aspire to as part of the University community.