Progress notes

Triplett reflects on profession, friendship with award namesake Robert V. Walker

January 12th, 2021

Dr. Robert G. Triplett, Regents Professor in oral and maxillofacial surgery, recently received the Robert V. Walker Distinguished Service Award from the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons. For Triplett, the award is even more meaningful and humbling because he personally knew and admired the man for whom the award is named.

Triplett was a first-year resident in Bethesda, Maryland, 50 years ago when he met Walker, a 1947 alumnus of Texas A&M College of Dentistry, which was known then as Baylor University College of Dentistry.

“He was a magnificent and inspiring individual who cared deeply about his patients and oral and maxillofacial surgery education. He was a strong leader, clinician and humanitarian,” says Triplett, who was “fortunate to know him socially and professionally.”

Triplett was recognized at the AAOMS 2020 Virtual Annual Meeting, Scientific Sessions and Exhibition in October. The full-time faculty member at the College of Dentistry—who is also an attending surgeon at Baylor University Medical Center and Scottish Rite for Children—was honored for significant contributions to oral and maxillofacial surgery.

“We have been so fortunate to have had Dr. Robert Triplett as an outstanding member of the faculty for 29 years,” says Dr. Lawrence Wolinsky, dean. “His impact on the practice and profession of oral and maxillofacial surgery, our students and alumni and, most importantly, the patients he serves is immeasurable.”

In 1998, Triplett was named Regents Professor by The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents. He chaired the College of Dentistry’s oral and maxillofacial surgery department from 1991 to 2007 and served as interim chair from 2019 to 2020. Triplett has authored more than 100 peer-reviewed articles. He served as chief of the oral and maxillofacial surgery division at BUMC from 1991 to 2020 and was primary liaison between the hospital and the dental school. Triplett served 21 years with the U.S. Navy Dental Corps.

What are the greatest strengths of our oral and maxillofacial surgery department?

The clinical experience of our faculty across a wide spectrum of oral and maxillofacial surgery—from dentoalveolar and implantology to craniofacial, cosmetic, orthognathic, pathology, TMJ, maxillofacial trauma and reconstruction. The reputation of the residency program is very strong, attracting nearly 300 applications this year for three first-year positions. We have an excellent staff, which has been very stable with little turnover. One of the most exciting additions is the inclusion of a stand-alone ambulatory surgery center within the physical space of the department in the new clinical building. It is intended for use by any department that needs such a facility, including pediatric dentistry, periodontics, AEGD and OMS.

What new diagnostics or clinical modalities do you see on the horizon that offer the potential to enhance quality of life for patients?

I believe the use of technologies such as 3D imaging has and will continue to be a vital tool for treatments and treatment planning. Its use has allowed improvement in precision for maxillofacial reconstruction of developmental deformities, oncological deformities and maxillofacial trauma. Tissue engineering and growth factors/stem cells are exciting tools to help improve outcomes and reduce morbidity. Previously, most patients did not get complete restoration of their deformities such as restoration of dentition, which was a tragedy. Tissue engineering is now able to enhance bone and soft tissue regeneration to restore form and function in a relatively short time. It may even obviate the need for soft- and hard-tissue transfers, further reducing morbidity.

What’s the status or progress of the college’s new dental oncology department?

I am very excited about the development of a service to help manage head and neck oncology patients. Through the expertise and vision of Dr. Amerian Sones, we are now able to provide a desperately needed service for these patients and are recruiting for an OMS oncology-trained surgeon to join the team to provide complete service for cancer patients. I envision that this division will provide additional education for both dental students and graduate students. This concept has worked well at other institutions and I am confident that we can replicate that success here.

Are there any challenges your department is addressing?

Currently our faculty situation is in flux. The COVID-19 pandemic, retirements, resignations and illness have created staffing issues for our clinical and academic teaching commitments. However, we are recruiting and hope to return to full strength within six months.

What have your patients and students taught you?

I have learned several important lessons from both my students and patients. The lessons from students are the importance of being consistent and having realistic expectations. Also, clarity in instructions is vital, and patience is a virtue. From my patients I have learned that it is critical to be an attentive listener to their concerns and expectations, not to assume they understand the steps in the treatments. Empathy is important, and also to treat them as you would like to be treated when you see your own health care professional. Do not talk down to the patient and, instead, focus your entire attention on them during consultations and treatments. A bit of kindness is as important as your professional skills.

— Kathleen Green Pothier