Obituary: John C. “Jack” Mitchem (1932–2012)

John Coate (“Jack”) Mitchem passed away on January 8, 2012 after a two year battle with cancer. Jack was born and raised in southern California. He moved to Oregon and earned a BS from Oregon State University in Game Management in 1954. He served on active duty in the U.S. Navy from 1954 to 1956, before returning to Oregon State to pursue an MS in Science Education, which was granted in 1958. He continued to serve in the Naval Reserve from 1957 to 1988, retiring at the rank of Captain. After teaching high school for one year, he enrolled in dental school at the University of Oregon Dental School in Portland and earned the DMD in 1963. He continued his educational pursuits on a postdoctoral fellowship sponsored by the National Institute of Health under David Mahler, and earned a MS in Dental Materials at the University of Oregon Dental School in 1965. He then became an Assistant Professor at the dental school, being promoted to Associate Professor in 1968 and to full Professor in 1975, a position he held until his retirement in 1993. He continued to serve the Oregon Health & Science University as Professor Emeritus until June 2010.

During his academic career, Jack wore many hats. He was an excellent teacher, guiding dental students through the often bewildering world of dental materials with nearly unbound enthusiasm, earning the nickname of “Jumpin’ Jack” from the students. He was an excellent instructor to fellow faculty, graduate students, and visiting faculty, taking the time to explain the proper use of dental materials and to demonstrate dental and laboratory techniques whenever asked. He was a key figure in the admissions process for the dental school, serving as the chair of the Admissions Committee for 14 years. He was also one of the key decision makers when it came to choosing the most appropriate materials for use in the dental curriculum.

Jack was continuously involved in research during his career, much of it sponsored by dental manufacturing companies, and always worked on problems of practical significance and relevance to the daily practice of general dentistry. Specifically, he was involved in clinical studies investigating the solubility of dental cements, the validity of laboratory tests for predicting the clinical solubility and clinical performance of dental cements, the influence of dental amalgam alloy type on marginal adaptation, and the wear and marginal fracture of dental composites. Jack pioneered two methods for studying the clinical performance of cements and composites. He developed a holder for placing dental cements into the oral cavity in a controlled manner to assess solubility in vivo and to compare it with the results obtained from in vitro specification tests. He showed that the solubility of cements could be ranked in a different order when tested intraorally vs. in water in the laboratory. He also developed a full denture model for evaluating the clinical wear of dental composites, allowing for the removal and autopsy of these restorations. He showed that the abrasive wear in the denture model produced equivalent wear results as those obtained in dentulous patients for certain composites. In all, Jack co-authored more than fifty research articles and presented his work at IADR/AADR meetings for over 40 years. Jack served as the Secretary and President of the DMG from 1974 to 1981, and was an officer in many other local and national scholarly groups. In 2008, Jack received the Ryge/Mahler Award for excellence in clinical research from the Dental Materials Group of the IADR.

Despite not practicing dentistry after graduation, Jack always stayed up to date and became a sought after speaker by local and national dental groups for his expertise in dental materials. He delivered hundreds of continuing education or study club presentations in his career. His connection to organized dentistry in Oregon was so strong that he was continuously being called by local and regional practitioners for his expert opinion about the latest most recent material or technique. This was a tremendous service that he provided to the regional dentists, and especially OHSU alumni, who would call him for years after graduating from dental school to be updated about “the latest and greatest” developments in dental materials.

Perhaps the greatest contribution that Jack made to his profession was his tireless dedication to the American Dental Association, both as an expert in dental materials providing guidance for the Council on Dental Materials, Instruments and Equipment for many years, and for his work in the ADA standards and specification program as a member of the American Standards Committee (MD156), where for many years he chaired the Restorative Materials Group. Jack was involved in the development and approval of many of the ADA standards and specifications used by dental manufacturers when developing new products, and routinely utilized by the profession to ensure the safety and efficacy of those products.

Jack’s favorite hobbies were sailing, hiking, skiing and enjoying the wilderness of the northwest. He is survived by his wife Lucy Mitchem, and sons Jeff and John and their families. A memorial scholarship for dental student research support has been set up in Jack’s name through the OHSU Foundation, OHSU School of Dentistry, 611 S.W. Campus Drive, Portland, OR, 97239 (contact Mr. Pat Regan for more information reganp@ohsu.edu ).

The dental profession and the dental materials research community are deeply saddened at the loss of a great friend and colleague.

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Nov 28, 2017 | Posted by in Dental Materials | Comments Off on Obituary: John C. “Jack” Mitchem (1932–2012)
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