Aubrey Sheiham

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 16 December 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h6785
  1. Chris Mahony, London
  1. chris.mahony{at}

Epidemiologist, dentist, researcher, and teacher

It takes courage or foolhardiness, or both, to challenge big business and the prevailing (and often lucrative) orthodoxies of one’s own profession. Dental public health specialist and emeritus professor Aubrey Sheiham, who died in November aged 79, riled the dentistry profession as well as the food lobby—particularly the sugar industry—with the results of his decades of research.

Many of his 480-plus research papers and books challenged mainstream dental practice, highlighted the impact of social inequalities on dental health, and illustrated the public health benefits of measures to reduce sugar consumption.

Several colleagues and contemporaries point to his 1977 paper, which challenged the routine recall of patients for six monthly check-ups. Published in the Lancet, the paper argued that there was no scientific evidence supporting this approach and warned of the risk of overtreatment, including filling caries that might have healed naturally.

Richard Watt, professor and head of the Research Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London (UCL), said that Sheiham’s research was finally vindicated by a 2004 review from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which produced guidelines that backed his research and conclusions.

Watt said: “The paper caused a backlash in the UK and led to a great deal of debate within the dental profession around the world. The profession …

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