Under the Microscope: A Q&A with Professor Iain Chapple

We put Professor Iain Chapple, the new Head of School of Dentistry at the University, ‘under the microscope’ to find out more about his background and vision for the new Birmingham Dental Hospital and School of Dentistry.  As a leading expert in the field of periodontology with 30 years of professional experience, we also find out the biggest changes and challenges he has seen in dentistry over the last few decades.


Please tell us about your background

I am a clinical academic holding a personal Chair at the University of Birmingham and honorary consultant contracts with Birmingham Community Health Trust, University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust and Birmingham Children’s Hospital NHS Foundation Trust for my regional clinical service and a national service for oral care in adult Epidermolysis Bullosa patients. My research group has strong interests in the causes and mechanisms underpinning the development of periodontal diseases and the translation of our discovery science to risk assessment, diagnostic and novel therapeutic technologies. We also have a strong interest in the relationship between periodontal diseases and other chronic diseases of ageing and have established, with medical colleagues, a number of cohorts to support these collaborations across the College. I have published 160 papers and have an H-index of 40.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?

Developing the periodontal research group and trials team in Birmingham, which translates basic discovery science into patient benefits, that in partnership with industry, develop products that impact upon millions of people. An example of this would be unravelling the main trigger for release of neutrophil (white blood cells) extracellular traps. We were able to take neutrophils from patients with a genetic defect that prevented the formation of these neutrophil extracellular “traps” called “NETs”, and which makes these patients very susceptible to life threatening infections, and by exposing the cells to the trigger chemical the cells were able to produce NETs.  One day this research may lead to new therapies to correct the genetic deficiency in these patients. A second example would be the development of novel natural micronutrients to control inflammation and their incorporation into toothpastes used to combat gum inflammation.

What’s your drive for getting up in the morning?

I work with great people and in a fantastic new Hospital and School. I enjoy developing young clinical academics to achieve their maximum potential and developing excellent and successful clinical and academic teams; this is what gets me to work each morning.

What are you most looking forward to doing in your new role?

I am looking forward to developing new teams within the Dental School, involving the Institute of Clinical Sciences and the broader College of Medical and Dental Sciences, in order to help Dentistry sustain and build upon recent successes.

What are your current research focuses?

We have several exciting ongoing projects, including the discovery of novel diagnostic biomarkers from saliva analysis for near-patient use, developing micro-nutritional solutions to modulating inflammation, unravelling mechanisms through which neutrophils contribute to periodontal tissue damage, and understanding why periodontitis is an independent risk factor for other chronic systemic diseases

What do you consider to be the biggest change in dentistry in recent decades?

The widespread introduction, use (and abuse) of dental implants, whose failure rates are increasing at an alarming pace and which create a challenging funding environment in the NHS for their salvage. Regenerating the lost bone and connective tissue attachment is expensive and there is no funding stream for this.

What challenges are we addressing through our research?

  • One major challenge is to be able to identify high risk patients for periodontal disease, which is the most common human disease, thus enabling early diagnosis and preventive care through risk factor management.
  • Developing therapies that calm down periodontal inflammation and promote resolution and natural tissue regeneration in an increasingly ageing population.
  • Looking at the use of stem cells for generating dental hard tissues to cover exposed nerves (pulps) which may eventually transform the management of dental caries.
  • Research into why dental implants fail so frequently is a key challenge for what is becoming an increasing human and healthcare burden.

What opportunities will the new Birmingham Dental Hospital and School of Dentistry create?

It provides a genuinely world class environment with the very best of teaching and learning technology, clinical and research facilities. It enables us to blend many different forms of teaching, from traditional lectures and practical classes, to cutting edge e-learning and instant student assessment and feedback. It will be a magnet to attract the very best students and deliver the very best learning experience for those students.

What impresses you most about the new building?

The stunning and very well equipped research laboratories, modern and spacious clinics, an open environment that encourages staff and student interaction, but perhaps the best thing is the view from the top floor walkway every evening as the sun sets across Chancellors court and Old Joe. We are still off campus but we feel much closer to the hub.

Find out more 

  • Find out more about the School of Dentistry at the University of Birmingham 
  • We captured the reactions of staff and students as they entered the new Dental Hospital and School for the first time: watch here 
  • Her majesty the Queen attended the official opening ceremony of the new School: read more here