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Dr. Travis Nelson named chair of Pediatric Dentistry

Dr. Travis NelsonThe University of Washington Board of Regents has approved the appointment of Dr. Travis Nelson to be chair of the School of Dentistry’s Department of Pediatric Dentistry, the school has announced.

Dr. Nelson, who is an associate professor, had been acting chair of the department since 2018. He has also been serving as interim graduate program director while a national search is conducted for a permanent replacement for that position.

The department operates the school’s Center for Pediatric Dentistry in Seattle’s Sand Point neighborhood. It has a two-year residency program and trains pre-doctoral dental students who cycle through the Center on rotations, along with dental hygiene students from the Shoreline Community College program.

“I am delighted that Dr. Nelson was approved for this critical position after being unanimously endorsed by our review committee,” said Dean Gary Chiodo of the School of Dentistry. “He has been outstanding as the acting chair of the department and led initiatives related to process improvements, patient flow, clinical production and revenue, research, and public outreach. He is one of those faculty members to whom we refer as the ‘triple threat,’ in that he is accomplished in the areas of teaching, patient care, and scholarly activity.”

Dr. Nelson, who received his DDS from California’s Loma Linda University in 2007, joined the Department of Pediatric Dentistry in 2010 as an acting assistant professor after completing his residency in pediatric dentistry there. He was appointed clinic chief in 2016.

In 2012, he started a dental clinic for children with autism at the Center. It was believed to be one of the first such clinics and has earned recognition for its significant success in treating these children while using behavioral techniques. Dr. Nelson and his colleagues published their findings in 2017 in the Journal of the American Dental Association.

As acting chair, he worked with School of Dentistry administrators to reorganize the department, establishing clinical, administrative, and educational divisions. He also worked with colleagues to help integrate the school’s Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery into the Sand Point clinical facility, which is the school’s most modern.

Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, he led a team that was awarded a $2.25 million, five-year postdoctoral training grant from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration. The grant supports enhanced training in the care of children with special health care needs and is developing a network of sites in Washington to care for these children in collaboration with the state’s Access to Baby and Child Dentistry program.

He has also worked with the school’s Regional Initiatives in Dental Education program on grant-supported efforts to teach pediatric dentistry to dental hygiene students and enhance UW pre-doctoral dental training. In addition, he and other faculty leads throughout the school are collaborating on an interdisciplinary dentistry program for the care of medically and dentally complex children.

In 2019, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry bestowed on him its Jerome B. Miller “For the Kids” Award. The annual award, begun in 2007, goes to a pediatric dentistry clinician, researcher, or academician 45 years or younger for outstanding efforts directed to children’s oral health and welfare.

Voicing his appreciation for the support of the dean and school administrators during his time as acting chair, Dr. Nelson said his goals for the department included:

  • Growing and developing the school’s interdisciplinary dentistry program
  • Continuing to be the provider of choice for medically and dentally complex children throughout the WWAMI region

“I want to ensure that the UW’s advanced education in pediatric dentistry program continues to be one of the best in the world, with emphasis on accepting diverse candidates and graduating residents who are leaders in their communities,” he said.