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Jim Crawford, 81, “Pioneer” in Modern Infection Control in Dentristry, Passes

Posted on Wednesday, October 9, 2013


James Joseph "Jim" Crawford, PhD, 81, recognized as "one of the founders of modern infection control in dentistry," passed away on Friday, Jan. 11, 2013. A resident of Chapel Hill, NC since 1956, Jim was known for his life's work as a professor of microbiology and an expert in dental infection control at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Dentistry.

Before retiring in 1996, Jim contributed significantly to the study of life-threatening pathogens, their laboratory diagnosis, treatment, and control. In fact, the Dr. James J. Crawford Award, presented by the Office Sterilization and Asepsis Procedures Research Foundation (OSAP), honors his lifetime achievements in the field of dental infection control. This award is given each year to an outstanding infection control leader in the U.S. His comprehensive research, recommendations and guidelines have been adopted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and incorporated into dental textbooks, lectures, regulatory documents and everyday dental practices.

Jim's pioneering work in microbiology and infection control helped prevent the spread of the hepatitis B virus and later AIDS within dentistry. His presentation, "If Saliva Were Red," demonstrated the cross-contamination that occurs from a practitioners' saliva-covered fingers and led to the teaching and practice of the use of dental gloves and improved instrument sterilization. Another study helped make root canals much safer and less likely to fail.

Jim attended the Gradwohl School of Medical Technology in St. Louis, MO, where he gained a healthy respect for microbes. This early education motivated him to continue at the University of Missouri, earning a bachelor and master's degrees in microbiology. In 1954 he began his doctoral studies at the University of Minnesotaand ended with a PhD in microbiology from the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill in 1962. While a microbiology post doctorate student at the UNC School of Medicine from 1962 to 1963, Jim conducted head and neck research to learn about the bacteria in nasal passages that caused hearing loss among cleft palate children. This research led him to study the anaerobic flora of the mouth and dental infections in collaboration with the Chairman of Endodontics at the UNC School of Dentistry, whose department he subsequently joined.

Over the next 18 years at UNC, Jim became an assistant professor at the dental school (1963-1971); developed and directed a unique clinical diagnostic/research microbiology laboratory that conducted culture evaluations of head and throat infections (1971-1996); and became a full professor (1980-1996).

During his career, he made presentations to the National Society for Dental Education and spoke at more than 50 dental schools across the country. In 1975, he became a consultant to the American Dental Association's (ADA) Council on Dental Therapeutics and its Council on Dental Materials, Instruments and Equipment. In 1988 he became a consultant for the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. He was a founding officer of OSAP and the Society for Infection Control in Dentistry. He also chaired the Microbiology Section of the Association of American Dental Schools. His publications on identifying diseases of the head and neck, the prevention of transmitting infectious diseases, and the safe use of dental equipment and procedures, are too many to list. However, one of his major accomplishments was co-authoring a chapter on Infection Control in "Sturdevant's Art and Science of Operative Dentistry," a No. 1-selling dental textbook. 


Contributions can be made in Jim's name to: Damascus Congregational Christian Church – Baby Formula Project, 522 Damascus Church Road, Chapel Hill, NC, 27516, or Fresh Water Ministries, P.O. Box 3413, Chapel Hill, NC 27515. You may also make a donation in his name to another organization of your choice.

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