Made to Discover: Dr. Mervyn Gornitsky

Dr. Mervyn Gornitsky, BSc ’51, DDS ’53. Professor Emeritus, McGill Faculty of Dentistry, Research Director of the Department of Dentistry, Jewish General Hospital. Lifelong learner, driven by curiousity.

Dr. Mervyn Gornitsky is Research Director of the Department of Dentistry at the Jewish General Hospital. He is a Professor Emeritus at McGill University, Faculty of Dentistry, and Chief Emeritus of the Department of Dentistry at the Jewish General Hospital. The dental clinic of the Jewish General Hospital is to be named after him in recognition for his contribution to the development of the residency training program and dental research.

Dr. Gornitsky's distinguished careers in academic dentistry and oral and maxillofacial surgery have spanned over 50 years. He has contributed more than anyone in Canada to the development of departments of dentistry in Canadian hospitals. He was chair of the Hospital Dental Services Committee for Quebec for 15 years and Chair of the Council on Hospital Dental Services for the Canadian Dental Association for six years.

His current research concerns the discovery of salivary biomarkers in Parkinson’s disease and other neurological conditions, as well as evaluating the biomarkers and treatment of painful temporomandibular disorders and sleep apnea. In the past, Dr. Gornitsky’s team has reported on epidemiologic studies associated with facial pain and bruxism, periodontal diseases in HIV positive and AIDS patients, xerostomia in patients undergoing radiotherapy for head and neck cancer, as well as the effects of oxidative stress on saliva.

Dr. Gornistky and Dr. Velly at the LDIYet perhaps his most important contribution to the health sciences is the LDI/JGH Databank for Saliva Specimens, the largest saliva databank in Canada. This saliva databank currently contains approximately 4000 samples for the study of salivary biomarkers and is located at the Lady Davis Institute (Jewish General Hospital). Dr. Gornitsky’s legacy in the advancement of dental science was recognized when he was bestowed the honour of Professor Emeritus in 2002. James Lund, Dean of the Faculty of Dentistry at the time, noted that Dr. Gornitsky “contributed more than anyone in Canada to the development of departments of dentistry in Canadian hospitals. Before Dr. Gornitsky, oral health care was rarely offered in university teaching hospitals. Now it is the norm.” His passion for research and enduring commitment to advancing science have endured.

This is his story, in his own words.

Both my parents had attended McGill. My father, Dr. Israel Gornitsky, graduated from the Faculty of Dentistry in 1927, and my mother Marie Goldberg was a commerce student in 1927-28 but did not complete, as she married in 1929.

McGill was considered the most outstanding university in our day. If you were a poor student, you went elsewhere. I entered McGill in 1946, when the student experience was very different. After the Second World War, many returning veterans were accepted and the overflow were sent to Dawson College in St. John sur Richelieu outside of Montreal. During our first and second years in Science we remained in Dawson during the week and returned home for the weekend. I completed three years in Science prior to entering the Faculty of Dentistry.

McGill has a great reputation for being in the forefront of the educational and research experience. It is a marvelous place to be, knowing the teachers are excellent. The students in my class were compatible and helped each other when needed. The four years passed quickly, and on graduation, we felt quite prepared for the real Dentistry.

Because I was a bridge player, I would play bridge with the chief of the clinic, Dr. Leahy. He would say to me, “Gornitsky, it’s lunchtime, let’s play bridge.” So that is how I spent part of my lunchtime during my clinic years. Being a dental student was otherwise a full-time job.

McGill was extremely important to my career and I ended as a Professor Emeritus at the University. My career is associated quite distinctly with McGill. I always wanted to be a teacher and felt that teaching was one of those great attributes for any professional.

McGill has such a great reputation around the world. I have been involved with different universities and hospital research centers in many countries

I treated HIV and AIDS patients for many years and lectured about that research all over the world—in at least 15 countries. McGill was always my entry into various areas throughout my travels. When I visited the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, I was introduced as a McGill Professor. I was thrilled to represent McGill in India, Kenya, Vietnam, China, Italy, France, Holland, United States, and throughout Canada.

GornitskyClinical practice is a wonderful area of dentistry and is known for its own kind of expertise in addition to ethics, morals, proper standards and so forth. As a clinician I spent 50 years in oral surgery. That is a long time for anybody to spend on anything. I personally found that many procedures in clinical dentistry are repetitive. Nonetheless, as things change, you must add to your expertise. To be an educator, you need more than simply basic clinical experience, everything you do has to be scientifically proven

Research is different and to me, always progressing, and stimulating. You are educating yourself to a great degree. This is especially important as I communicate with professionals that I would not have met otherwise. I am dealing with diseases and problems that are not encountered on a clinical basis. Even to this day, I spend a great degree of my time reading about various new research discoveries. That is why we are now involved with COVID-19. For many reasons, COVID-19 has become part of the dental field.

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