One of Pitt’s oral medicine pioneers, Dr. James Guggenheimer, dies at 85

With more than half a century of service at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Dental Medicine, Dr. James Guggenheimer surprisingly was part of one of the newer specialty fields, his colleagues said.

For years, Dr. Guggenheimer advanced the knowledge of oral medicine through research focused on the connection between the mouth and the health of the rest of the body. This included dental changes in Rubella patients, as well as the oral health of people with diabetes and those who had received transplants.

“He was one of the early practitioners in the field (of oral medicine) – a pioneer,” said Dr. Elizabeth Bilodeau, an associate professor of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology at the university’s dental school. “It’s kind of amazing to see the different things he looked at over his career. He never stopped. ”

Dr. James Guggenheimer – of O’Hara, and formerly of Highland Park – died Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022. He was 85.

His parents, the late Siegfried and Etta Guggenheimer, fled their native Germany in the 1930s after the Nazis rose to power and before the start of World War II. Etta Guggenheimer was pregnant with her son as they boarded a train for Belgrade, Yugoslavia, where he was born in 1936.

The family came to the United States in 1939 to join relatives. They settled in the Bronx, NY

“Technically, he was a Holocaust survivor as a child refugee,” said son Paul Guggenheimer, a reporter for the Tribune-Review.

In the melting pot New York City borough, the Jewish boy from Europe named Yahuda told his childhood friends that his name was Jim. “That’s how he became James Guggenheimer,” his son said, noting that early in his professional career his father used the middle initial Y but later dropped it.

Dr. Guggenheimer earned a degree in biology from City College of New York in 1958 and then a doctorate in dental surgery degree from Columbia University before completing postgraduate studies in Albany and Rochester, NY, and then a fellowship in oral medicine at Philadelphia General Hospital and the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine.

He joined the faculty of the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine in 1966.

For the next 55 years, Dr. Guggenheimer was a professor in the Department of Diagnostic Sciences in the disciplines of Oral Medicine and Oral Pathology in the School of Dental Medicine. He trained more than 6,000 dental school graduates, Bilodeau estimated.

He was certified by the American Board of Oral Medicine and was a member of the American Academy of Oral Medicine. He was a recipient of Pitt’s Dental Educator of the Year award and the School of Dental Medicine’s Award of Appreciation, which is a distinguished service award, said Dr. Steven Levine, director of the dental school’s emergency clinic.

After his official retirement on Dec. 31, 2021, the university named Dr. Guggenheimer to Emeritus status, an honorary title for retired tenured professors. The School of Dental Medicine also installed a plaque inside Salk Hall honoring Dr. Guggenheimer and his decades of service.

“Sadly, we did not realize it would be a memorial plaque within weeks,” said Levine, who was a student of Dr. Guggenheimer before becoming a colleague and friend.

“He was always a mentor and teacher,” Levine said. “He was easy to talk to, warm and engaging. I will miss him deeply. ”

During his career, Dr. Guggenheimer is credited with writing or coauthoring 55 refereed articles on oral medicine, often exploring its connection to other diseases and ailments.

Colleagues recalled his devotion to selecting the precise words and taking great care to craft sentences. He often referenced his well-worn thesaurus, said Bilodeau, who worked on several research papers with Dr. Guggenheimer.

“He was the epitome of an intellect,” she said.

Dr. Paul A. Moore, professor emeritus of Pitt’s School of Dental Medicine, worked with Drs. Guggenheimer on dozens of writing projects, beginning with the connections between Rubella and oral health when he was a dental school student in the 1970s.

Other research Dr. Guggenheimer focused on the years included connections between oral health and medicine to smoking and tobacco use, cancer, heart disease and the use of Tylenol and opioids.

“He was just an academic who had the curiosity to look at those things,” Moore said. “He was a scientist. He was a curious guy. And he was bright.

“I like working with people who are smarter than me, and Jim certainly fell into that category.”

Constance “Connie” Guggenheimer recalled meeting the man who would become her husband for nearly 53 years at a get-together for medical interns at the old Montefiore Hospital in Oakland, now part of the UPMC system.

A few days later, a call came into the hospital placement bureau, where a coworker said someone named “Guggenheimer” was looking for her.

They figured it was a joke.

“I did not even remember his name or anything,” Connie Guggenheimer said. “I guess somehow he tracked me down.”

The couple wed on March 27, 1969.

In addition to his work, Dr. Guggenheimer’s family said he was thoughtful, reflective, patient and a good listener who was insightful.

“People always said they felt they were a better person for having known him,” his wife said. “He was just a very kind person.”

He was an avid sports fan, growing up with a special love for the New York Giants baseball team, and later the NY Mets as well as the NY Jets football team.

At an old-timers game in the 1980s at Boston’s Fenway Park, son Paul secured an autographed baseball from Giants legendary outfielder Bobby Thomson, known for hitting the 1951 pennant-winning home run known as the “Shot Heard Around the World.”

Dr. Guggenheimer kept the inscribed ball in a special curio cabinet where he and his wife displayed family mementos and various antiques that they enjoyed collecting.

True patrons of the arts, he and his wife regularly attended Pittsburgh Symphony, Pittsburgh Opera and Pittsburgh Ballet performances. They traveled to New York to see Broadway plays as well as took trips throughout Europe.

In addition to his wife and son Paul, Dr. Guggenheimer is survived by sons Peter (Amy) Guggenheimer and Gregor Guggenheimer; grandchildren Allison and Lucas; nephew Sean Brennan; and sister-in-law Gail Brennan.

A funeral service will be held at 1 pm Tuesday, Feb. 8, at Christ Church in Fox Chapel, followed by a reception at the church and a private interment. Weddell-Ajak Funeral Home in Aspinwall is in charge of arrangements.

Memorial donations can be made to a fund being established in the name of Dr. James Guggenheimer at the Eye & Ear Foundation to provide dental care for head and neck cancer survivors.

Donations can be made online at www.eyeandear.org, or checks can be mailed to the Eye & Ear Foundation, 203 Lothrop St., Suite 251 EEI, Pittsburgh, PA 15213. Please list Dr. James Guggenheimer in the memo portion.

Jason Cato is a Tribune-Review deputy managing editor. You can contact Jason at 724-850-1289, jcato@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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