Guggenheimer mentored hundreds in 55 years at dental school

James Guggenheimer, a 55-year professor in the School of Dental Medicine who conducted pioneering research in oral medicine and oral pathology, died Jan. 27, 2022, at 85 — having retired just the month before.

“He was one of the trailblazers who tried in the early sixties and seventies to make the connection between oral health and systemic health in diabetes and other medical issues,” such as oral cancer and smoking, said Bernard J. Costello, the school’s dean.

Guggenheimer joined the school in 1966, spending his years in the Department of Diagnostic Sciences.  “He was obviously committed to Pitt and was your consummate clinical scholar,” said Costello. “He was your eminent scholar who worked very well with people.

“He was always asking questions and questioning what we thought was the case,” Costello added, including an early examination of the necessity of opioid pain medication. He recalled Guggenheimer as “a very invested teacher in teaching high-level clinical thinking. … He would engage with students in a way that made them feel he wanted to understand them.”

Guggenheimer was a mentor to “hundreds of students if not thousands” through the years, Costello estimated, and treated many patients in school clinics through the decades.

He also often chaired the school’s promotion and tenure committee. “He was very particular with policy and procedures,” Costello said, and contributed much to the University in his “gentlemanly, fair, honest way.”

Guggenheimer was honored with a plaque at the school upon his retirement, which was “a bit unusual,” Costello noted. “The faculty members felt very strongly” about recognizing his service to the department. “It’s one way for people to remember his impact and all the things he brought to our institution.”

He received the University’s Dental Educator of the Year award and his school’s Award of Appreciation.

Born in 1936, just after his parents fled Nazi Germany, Guggenheimer was raised in the Bronx and earned his undergraduate biology degree from the City College of New York and doctorate in dental surgery from Columbia, with postgraduate studies that included a fellowship in oral medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine and Philadelphia General Hospital.

He is survived by his wife, Constance, sons Paul, Peter and Gregor, grandchildren Allison and Lucas, nephew Sean Brennan and sister-in-law Gail Brennan.

Memorial donations are suggested to a new fund in Guggenheimer’s honor at the Eye & Ear Foundation, which will offer dental care to head and neck cancer patients, at, or 203 Lothrop St., Suite 251 EEI, Pittsburgh, PA 15213.

— Marty Levine