SCP Podcast Episode 249: The marriage of neurosurgery with the dental specialty of orofacial pain. Dr. Stephen Johnson and Dr. Gary Heir

December 2, 2023


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In this episode, join us as we talk with new guest, Dr. Stephen A Johnson and recurring guest, Dr. Gary Heir.   This episode dives into the marriage of neurology and neurosurgery with the dental specialty of orofacial pain.

This one’s so good, we’re skipping (most) highlights and diving right in.  Let’s go!

Stephen A. Johnson, MD 

Robert Wood Johnson Medical School

Chief of Neurosurgery | Community Medical Center
Director of Facial Pain & Trigeminal Neuralgia | Department of Neurosurgery | RWJMS
Director of Gamma Knife Radiosurgery | Department of Neurosurgery | RWJMS
Assistant Professor | Department of Neurosurgery | RWJMS

Dr. Johnson earned his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Pennsylvania with a concentration in Neuroscience, graduating Summa Cum Laude with Phi Beta Kappa Honors. He completed a residency in neurosurgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. During his time in Pittsburgh, Dr. Johnson also completed a fellowship in stereotactic neurosurgery under the mentorship of Dade Lunsford, a world-renowned pioneer in Gamma Knife Radiosurgery. His training also focused on microvascular decompression surgery under the guidance of Raymond Sekula, a renowned surgeon in the lineage of Peter Jannetta, who initially pioneered the procedure.

Dr. Johnson specializes in Gamma Knife Radiosurgery, cranial nerve disorders, and spinal neurosurgery and has published both peer-reviewed articles and textbook chapters in these areas. He utilizes both incision-less Gamma Knife Radiosurgery and traditional open approaches in the management of cranial pathology. Similarly, he offers both minimally invasive and open treatments for degenerative spine diseases. This multi-modal approach enables Dr. Johnson to provide highly customized and effective treatment for each individual patient.

Dr. Johnson has a research focus on clinical outcomes after radiosurgery. He sees patients with all spinal conditions, brain tumors, and cranial nerve disorders. Currently, he treats patients at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and Community Hospital.

A New Jersey native, Dr. Johnson enjoys surf fishing, Italian dining, and traveling with his family. (Bio credit, Rutgers.edu)

Gary Heir, DMD 

Rutgers Health University Dental Associates – School of Dental Medicine

Specialties: Orofacial Pain

Academic Appointments:  Clinical Professor, Director Division of Orofacial Pain Interests: Chronic Pain, Headaches, TMD, Orofacial Pain & Lyme Disease

An internationally recognized expert in orofacial pain and temporomandibular disorders. He is the director of the Center for Temporomandibular Disorders and Orofacial Pain in the Department of Diagnostic Sciences at Rutgers School of Dental Medicine, which performs research and teaches this advanced field of dentistry focusing on the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of complex chronic orofacial pain disorders.  Gary Heir has recently been appointed to the Robert and Susan Carmel Chair in Algesiology at the Rutgers School of Dental Medicine.

Over the past decade, Heir played a significant role alongside a committee of national orofacial pain program directors and the American Academy of Orofacial Pain to get orofacial pain recognized as the 12th specialty in dentistry by the American Dental Association in March 2020. He is also the signatory on the application to the National Commission on Recognition of Dental Specialties and Certifying Boards for recognition of the American Board of Orofacial Pain as the official certifying board for the specialty.

Currently, Heir directs the center at the dental school, one of only 12 postgraduate orofacial pain programs in the country accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). He stressed the need for more accredited programs, citing the millions of patients who require treatment but have difficulty finding specialists.

In addition to his work at Rutgers, Heir is a highly sought-after lecturer, having delivered nearly 300 presentations on orofacial pain and related subjects in the region, the country and worldwide.

He has served on the boards of many professional organizations, including as the president of the American Academy of Orofacial Pain and the American Board of Orofacial Pain and as a member of CODA and the Council on Dental Education and Licensure. He was appointed by three of New Jersey’s governors for three consecutive terms as a member of New Jersey Governor’s Lyme Disease Commission.

Heir has published over 100 peer-reviewed articles, chapters, and abstracts on orofacial pain and TMJ disorders. He also serves as the section editor for Orofacial Pain Neuroscience of The Journal of the American Dental Association.  (Bio credit, Rutgers.edu)

Highlights of this podcast include:

  • Trigeminal neuralgia
  • Common types of patients
  • How to recognize non-dental pain
  • How collaboration with neurology and neurosurgery is synergistic
  • What to look for as a patient 
  • What should you expect from a neurology exam/OFP exam
  • What patients should look for 
  • And so much more…

To learn more about Dr. Johnson, visit his bio here.   

To learn more about Dr. Heir, visit his bio here.