One silver lining of the pandemic was the attention it focused on frontline medical personnel, essential workers—and the stalwarts at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.

By Chuck Cohen and Rick Cohen

IT MAY HAVE taken a pandemic, but frontline workers are finally getting some long-overdue appreciation. Last year, it was especially heartening when signs began popping up at hospitals declaring heroes work here in celebration of those struggling valiantly behind the closed doors of a health-care system stressed to the breaking point.

Yet there are all kinds of heroes, not just physicians who worked long hours caring for those sufferering from the virus, or dentists who put themselves at risk treating emergency patients to keep them from overcrowded emergency rooms. One of the pandemic’s silver linings is that we seem to be getting better at recognizing and celebrating them. After all, everyday jobs stop being ordinary when merely showing up puts workers at risk of contracting a potentially deadly ailment.

In our view, some of dentistry’s most unsung heroes are the people of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR). This division of the National Institutes of Health is doing mountains of research annually that helps advance the science of dentistry and fuels tomorrow’s innovations. We’re not certain private industry could shoulder this kind of burden, but were it forced to, you can be sure it would drive up the cost of treatment significantly.

That’s why we’re pleased to feature the NIDCR’s new director, Dr. Rena D’Souza, on our cover and as part of this year’s 32 Most Influential People in Dentistry (see page 19). Full disclosure: The NIDCR declined our interview request, and offered only limited cooperation, due to conflict-of-interest concerns about Benco Dental’s government contracts. We’re still proud of our reporting and excited that our story highlights the accomplishments of an institute that doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

Certainly, someone like Dr. D’Souza—who oversees $435 million in dental-research funds—is highly influential. But what about the rest of our list? Influence is impossible to measure by any conventional means. Perhaps that’s why our annual 32 Most Influential issue is one of our favorites, and the one most anticipated by readers. We sweated every pick, argued enthusiastically on more than one Zoom call and, in the end, now present you with this year’s list. (We’ve also added a new category, 16 On the Cusp, comprising the people most likely to break into the 32 Most Influential in future years, and we’re highlighting some even younger talent through our new ranking of top student influencers.) We hope it all not only informs and entertains you, but also serves as a useful jumping-off point for tracking the influencers who matter most to you personally.

P.S.: For a behind-the-scenes look at how Benco Dental’s frontline associates adapted to Covid-19, check out our 2020 Annual Report at