Rising Dental Health Leader Alumni Award:  Darien J. Weatherspoon, DDS ’10, MPH

Darien J. Weatherspoon, DDS, MPHThis award recognizes a graduate from the past 10 years whose accomplishments enhance the perception of the dental profession and who has demonstrated remarkable service to the community. The 2021 award honors Darien J. Weatherspoon, DDS ’10, MPH, in recognition of his early-career efforts to improve the nation’s overall health by reducing oral health disparities and promoting oral health in underserved populations.

As director of the Oral Health Disparities and Inequities Research Program at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), National Institutes of Health (NIH); Weatherspoon oversees a diverse portfolio of active research grants, collaborates with NIH partners on research initiatives, and identifies gaps in research that, when addressed, will improve the oral health of the underserved.

After graduating in 2002 from the University of Virginia McIntire School of Commerce, he began his professional life conducting information systems audits at an accounting firm, but soon realized that he wanted to have a more tangible, positive impact on people’s lives. He earned his Doctor of Dental Surgery in 2010 from the University of Maryland School of Dentistry (UMSOD). Two years later, he completed an Advanced Education in General Dentistry residency and received his Master of Public Health degree from the University of Michigan. He also worked as a clinical instructor at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry in the Department of Cardiology, Restorative Sciences, and Endodontics. Subsequently, he went on to complete a dental public health residency at the NIDCR, and later achieved board-certification in the specialty of dental public health.

Before joining the NIDCR in 2016, Weatherspoon served as an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry in the Department of Pediatric Dentistry and the Division of Prevention and Public Health Sciences, where he conducted oral health disparities research and helped to administer the college’s community-based service-learning program. He also volunteered as a dentist at CommunityHealth, a clinic that provides health care services to low-income and uninsured individuals in Chicago.  

For the past five years, in addition to his duties as a program director, Weatherspoon has mentored rising dental public health trainees through the NIDCR’s Residency Training Advisory Committee and the Research Advisory Group. He also has received several awards including a 2018 NIDCR Individual Special Act or Service Award, which recognizes exemplary service to NIDCR’s mission. 

Weatherspoon has written or co-authored more than 30 peer-reviewed articles, abstracts, or book chapters and frequently has presented at international and national conferences including those of the International Association of Dental Research and the National Dental Association. 

He additionally sits on numerous federal committees including as project assistant for the Surgeon General’s 2020 Oral Health Report; NIH liaison for the U.S. Preventive Service Task Force; and as a member of the Tribal Health Research Coordinating Committee; the Health and Human Services Health Literacy Workgroup; and the Fogarty International Center/Global Health Research Working Group.