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Cleft Palate Collage  | Medical College of Georgia Foundation

Craniofacial Surgeon Bridges Gap Between Physicians, Dentists

Dr. Jeff James has a slew of degrees, but although engineering isn’t one of them, he considers bridge-building to be one of his strongest assets.

James grew up in Plainview, Texas, eager to follow in the footsteps of the multiple health care providers in his family. His father and grandfather were dentists, and his mother a dental hygienist. His sister went on to become a dentist and married one as well.

After earning his undergraduate degree at Texas A&M University, James carried on the family tradition by enrolling in dental school at the University of Texas. But the more he pursued the discipline, the more he gravitated toward surgery. After earning his dental degree, he went on to Louisiana State University, where he earned a medical degree and completed an oral and maxillofacial surgery (OMFS) residency. “For so long, I’d been on the fence between medicine and dentistry,” he says. “Then when I discovered oral and maxillofacial surgery, I realized this was the field that bridged the chasm.”

The curriculum, he acknowledges, was grueling, “but there was overlap with what I’d learned in dental school,” he says. “I studied nonstop, but I felt like I had a leg up in several areas. By the time I took my boards, I’d had hands-on experience with just about everything you could imagine. I’d seen it all.”

Still, “when I got into OMFS, I knew I wasn’t done,” James says. “I immediately started seeking fellowship opportunities.”

He’d met his future wife in Louisiana, and Aimee, who was studying to become a nurse anesthetist, fully supported his dream deferred. With her blessing, he went on to complete fellowships in cleft/craniofacial surgery and facial cosmetic surgery. James at last felt he had the education he needed to begin his career in earnest. When Dr. Mark Stevens in the Dental College of Georgia Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery recruited James as program director, James immediately set in motion his dream of a one-stop shop for patients—particularly newborns—with oral and craniofacial issues necessitating a multi-pronged approach to treatment. His services include cleft and craniofacial surgery, as well as oral, trauma and cosmetic procedures for all ages.

With his comprehensive training and joint appointment in the Medical College of Georgia, James moves seamlessly between the MCG and DCG environments. “There aren’t many people with both a medical and dental degree in the Augusta area,” he says. “I fully embraced both my medical and dental degrees and have tried to integrate the disciplines. I see myself as someone who can bridge that gap.”

The advantages, he notes, are immense. The oral health aspects of many medical conditions and treatments are better understood than ever, and collaboration is vital in optimizing patient outcomes. “I think there’s a lot to be gained from dental insight into everyday hospital functions,” James says. “Cardiothoracic procedures, stem cell transplants, radiation treatment for cancer patients, osteoporosis treatments — all these conditions, and many more, have implications for oral health, and the more proactive we are, the better we can treat our patients.”

Of course, his own specialty is a veritable case study in multidisciplinary collaboration. Congenital craniofacial defects require specialists in areas including neurosurgery, genetics, orthodontics, speech therapy, pediatric dentistry, pediatric medicine, ear-nose-throat and psychology. Many craniofacial defects, including clefts and plagiocephaly (in which the sutures of the skull fuse prematurely) require multiple surgeries and procedures over a period of years. “Our team coordinator pulls it all together and removes the confusion for parents,” James says. “All they have to concentrate on is their next appointment, and they come to the same location [for almost every visit]. We’re all right here together.”

James, who became a father of twins in November, is more attuned than ever to the needs of parents and is thrilled to work in such a collegial environment.

“I enjoy bringing people together,” he says. “We have a wonderful medical school with a tremendously rich history, as well as a very strong dental school. The more we bridge the gap between the two schools, the greater the potential for our patients.”

To help advance the craniofacial work at MCG, contact Augusta University Director of Development Rhonda Banks at robanks@augusta.edu or 706-446-4664.