Professor Barry Gibson

BSc MMedSci PhD

Professor in Medical Sociology

Person-centred and Population Oral Health Research Group Lead

Contact Details:

School of Clinical Dentistry
Claremont Crescent
S10 2TA

Telephone: +44 (0) 114 2159322



I joined the University in 2004 as a Lecturer in Medical Sociology. Since then I have been involved in setting up and running the Masters in Dental Public Health in the Department. I have also supervised numerous PhD students using a range of research approaches and methodologies from Luhmann´s social systems theory, consumerism and child centred methods applied to oral health related research.

Previously I worked in King´s College London Dental School as a Lecturer in Sociology and Informatics as Applied to Dentistry and as a Post Doctoral Researcher in the Sociology of Health and Illness (1999-2004). My PhD (1997) was a grounded theory of infection control in dentistry and my masters research focussed on HIV in dentistry (1993). Both of these degrees were completed at the Queen´s University of Belfast. Previous to this I completed a BSc 1st Class Honours degree in Sociology at the University of Ulster in Jordanstown in 1992.


The structure of accounts of illness: social systems theory

My principal contribution in Medical Sociology has been to explore the relationship between communication in dental settings, accounts of illness and social structure. My approach has been informed by Niklas Luhmann’s social systems theory combined with a qualitative research approach. I have written and contributed to 4 articles published in Social Science and Medicine, The Sociology of Health and Illness and Social Theory and Health. These articles demonstrate how communication in dental encounters is influenced by social structure. I have written and contributed to a further three book chapters on systems theory. This research has been conducted via PhD studentships and industry funding from GlaxoSmithKline as part of the ‘Expanding oral health’ and ‘Living with oral conditions’ awards.

Oral health related quality of life

One of the central benefits of quality of life research has been to give patients a voice in dentistry. I have been developing a theoretical and conceptual programme of research on the meaning and measurement of quality of life in dentistry. My work initially began with an investigation into the conceptual meaning of oral health related quality of life. My thinking about the mismatch between expectations and experience was central to a BMJ paper on the subject of quality of life that was subsequently developed with several co-authors. Other work involved critically evaluating the meaning of concepts such as ‘positive health’. Our work on positive health became the subject of an invited keynote address to the Behavioural Sciences, Health Services Research and Epidemiological Research group at the IADR. Subsequent to this keynote I was approached by GlaxoSmithKline to develop a new oral health related quality of life measure for the measurement of the impacts of dentine hypersensitivity. This work has been hugely interdisciplinary involving dentists, biomedical scientists and social scientists. Not only did we develop an excellent measure but we went on to develop an innovative programme of research that involved looking at dentine hypersensitivity from the perspective of clinical science, psychology and sociology. The resulting programmes have brought over £600k of industrial funding into the School of Clinical Dentistry. This work involved an international group of researchers and has resulted in 11 papers in peer reviewed journals and a further 6 book chapters. The measure we developed is now being used in clinical trials globally.

Grounded theory

I have maintained a continual interest in the development of grounded theory as a research method ever since I used the approach during my PhD. My goal in grounded theory has been to improve the quality of grounded theory as a research method whilst resituating it within sociology. I teach grounded theory on a regular basis to Post Graduates in Sheffield in psychology and public health and provide continual mentorship to different students from all over the world. In academic terms I have used grounded theory procedures and techniques to develop a new approach to the empirical turn in Luhmann’s social systems theory. I have worked on how to blend grounded theory with critical theory and more recently produced a book called “Rediscovering Grounded Theory” published by Sage. The book revisits the origins of the grounded theory methods within sociology and places the method back into the sociological context. The book has been favourably reviewed in numerous journals most recently in Symbolic Interaction where it was described as ‘the paradigmatic choice for novice and experienced researchers’.

Applied social science in dentistry

A large part of my contribution to dentistry has been developing wherever possible applied sociology. My goal has always been to enhance the role of sociology in dentistry by applying relevant aspects of sociological thought to a wide range of problems. This research more often than not involves looking at the consequences of oral health and dentistry for those who use services and giving a voice to those that are often excluded. I have been involved in doing research on the subject of giving voice to children in dentistry. Additionally, I have been involved in oral health research on the problems associated with identity and drug use. This research has yielded 3 papers, one in The Sociology of Health and Illness and the others in Dental Journals. Other work has included exploring the problem of access to health services. In this respect I have worked on two NIHR SDO funded projects on access; one whilst I was a new lecturer in Guys King’s and St Thomas’ Dental Institute and the other more recently with colleagues from Leeds and Public Health England. In this research I have applied the understanding of access as a failure of social resources for health. I am currently involved in exploring how new approaches to the commissioning dental services can change the semantics of communication in the clinic. The work I am currently involved in is feeding into the process for deciding on a new dental contract for England. It has uncovered how the semantics of communication in the clinic can change in response to a different contracting process focused on quality and health improvement. My other contributions involve collaborations with colleagues in Australia, working on improving the voice of Aboriginal communities in Australia in improving oral care for people from indigenous groups.

Research Team

PhD Students

  • Najla Al Dossari, Mothers Agency and children’s oral health in Saudi Arabia Started March 2011 due 2014 Saudi Arabian Government Funded.
  • Joe Vere, “Evidence based medicine: Philosophy and Practice.” Started July 2011 due 2017 (PT).
  • Sarab Masoud, An Evaluation of Approaches to Oral Health Promotion for Children. Started – Libyan Government Funded. Started 2012.
  • Abdullah Alzahrani, Decision making, power and dental Implantology in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabian Government Funded.
  • John Sedgwick A grounded theory study of decisions to undertake dialysis. (PT)
  • Rizwana Lala, Power and politics in Cosmetic Dentistry. (PT) Started 2014.
  • Ninu Rose Paul, A grounded theory study of the processes involved in orthognathic surgery. (FT) Started 2014.


Twitter: @bj_gibson