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Distinguished Service Award awardee ‘known and revered’

September 06, 2016

By David Burger

Photo of Dr. Peter Dawson at The Dawson Academy
Imparting wisdom: Dr. Peter Dawson, center, teaches a group of dentists about the masticatory system at The Dawson Academy in St. Petersburg, Florida. The ADA Board of Trustees will bestow upon Dr. Dawson the ADA Distinguished Service Award at ADA 2016 – America’s Dental Meeting this October.

— Dr. Peter E. Dawson turned 86 in July.

However, he said, “It’d be a sin to retire.”

The ADA Board of Trustees will bestow upon Dr. Dawson the ADA Distinguished Service Award at ADA 2016 – America’s Dental Meeting this October for Dr. Dawson’s lifelong undying devotion to advancing the art and science of dentistry.

Dr. Dawson, of St. Petersburg, Florida, is considered to be one of the most influential clinicians and teachers in the United States, if not the world. He is known globally for his contributions to the fields of occlusion and restorative dentistry and for his concepts on the diagnosis and treatment of temporomandibular joint disorders.

“It’s quite exciting,” said Dr. Dawson, upon learning that he would receive the honor. “It’s very overwhelming.”

Dr. Dawson is the founder of The Dawson Academy, a postgraduate educational and clinical research facility dedicated to dentistry. The Dawson Academy’s clinical faculty imparts the principles and skills of “complete, quality, predictable” dentistry as taught by Dr. Dawson, with a curriculum designed to support doctors striving to be physicians of the masticatory system.

Dr. Dawson said he and his colleagues have taught over 50,000 dentists.

“The Board of Trustees and I are delighted that we will be able to honor Dr. Dawson with the ADA Distinguished Service Award at our annual session in October,” said Dr. Carol Gomez Summerhays, ADA president, who has attended The Dawson Academy. “Dr. Dawson is known around the world for his contributions to the science and art of dentistry, and he has educated thousands of dentists on his signature concept of ‘complete’ dentistry. With his best-selling textbooks, forward-thinking work on practice management and pioneering research on restorative dentistry, Dr. Dawson is more than worthy of being recognized for his achievements that have benefited the entire world.”

Photo of Dr. Dawson
Dr. Dawson
Dr. Dawson authored the best-selling dental text, “Evaluation, Diagnosis and Treatment of Occlusal Problems.” His latest book is “Functional Occlusion: From TMJ to Smile Design.”

“Wherever I go throughout the world, Dr. Peter Dawson is known and revered,” said Joan Forrest, president and chief executive officer of The Dawson Academy. “His textbooks have been published in 13 languages and are used in dental schools worldwide. By studying his work, dentists are able to understand, some for the first time, the often mystifying concepts of occlusion.”

Dr. Dawson is also a pioneer in developing and teaching principles of practice management. He was one of the first dentists to hire systems analysts to evaluate every phase of his practice, from quality control to developing a color-coded system for block scheduling.

In addition to numerous awards and special recognitions, Dr. Dawson is the past president and life member of the American Equilibration Society and a past president of the American Academy of Restorative Dentistry and the American Academy of Esthetic Dentistry.

Dr. Dawson was born on July 1, 1930, in St. Petersburg, the grandson of a dentist and son of a dental laboratory owner. He began working as an apprentice technician when he was 14 and wanted to become a technician like his father.  His father told him that if he became a really good dentist first, he could consider becoming a technician.  

Some of his earliest memories include him accompanying his father to the lab. “I loved every minute of it,” he said.

His father died suddenly shortly after Dr. Dawson graduated from high school. But he still went through with his decision to go to dental school, quickly learning that he wanted to be a dentist, not a technician.

In 1954, Dr. Dawson graduated from the Emory University School of Dentistry, and joined the U.S. Air Force and served as a dentist for the armed forces in Japan.

Dr. Dawson returned to St. Petersburg in 1957 and married the former Jodie Wood. (They will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary next year.) He established a one-chair practice in a “tiny little office,” and in between patients, researched occlusion and TMD. He was intrigued by the subject because it seemed to him to be largely misunderstood.

He embarked on tireless studies of anatomy and began writing about the diagnosis and treatment of TMJ. His innovative and eye-opening research led to many dentists seeking him out in study clubs, and soon, every weekend was spent with dentists who wanted to learn from him.

Dr. Dawson hated to miss his family time on the weekends — he and Jodie were to have four children — so he began offering weekday seminars on occlusion and TMJ in 1961. Thirty-five dentists attended his first seminar.

Through the years, it has evolved from Dr. Dawson’s lecture series to an organization with over 20 faculty members, teaching in four locations in the United States and six international locations:  Japan, the United Kingdom, Spain, Poland, India and China (starting in October).  In 2008, when Dr. John Cranham joined Pete as clinical director and partner, the name was changed to The Dawson Academy.

Dr. Dawson’s colleagues praised him and said he was deserving of being awarded the Distinguished Service Award.

Dr. Cranham said he first encountered the work of Dr. Dawson as a dental student three decades ago. As part of his studies, he wanted to do a full-mouth reconstruction on his mother, and asked one of his professors for advice. The professor told him to read Dr. Dawson’s “Evaluation, Diagnosis and Treatment of Occlusal Problems.” Cranham did, and 30 years later, his mother, now 88, still has a perfect smile.

“There isn’t another dentist alive who’s had a bigger impact on the profession than Pete,” Dr. Cranham said.

“Dr. Dawson is the real deal,” said Dr. Jeffrey D. Amstutz, vice president for dental ministries of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations, of which Dr. Dawson sits on the board of trustees. “His passion for excellence in dentistry that has led him to study, practice with excellence, to write and to teach is the same passion and commitment that he has for God and for his family and friends. He leads by example and is a continuous mentor, from the early days of his practice where he readily began to share everything he was learning with fellow dentists until today as he interacts with young dental students desiring to make a difference through dentistry.”

Ms. Forrest said, “Dr. Dawson has dedicated his adult life to teaching and helping dentists become the best that they can be. He still gets up every day thinking about how he can help dentists better understand and how he can make a point clearer. Pete loves dentists and he loves dentistry. Dr. Dawson is a true pioneer in dentistry and his books, articles and teaching clearly illustrate his commitment to being a continuous learner. The impact he has had on countless dentists around the world, and through them, an exponential number of patients, is immeasurable.”

Dr. Henry A. Gremillion, dean of the LSU Health New Orleans School of Dentistry, has known Dr. Dawson for nearly four decades and is an alum of The Dawson Academy. “His numerous and tremendous accomplishments in the field of restorative dentistry clinically and educationally are unsurpassed,” he said. “His textbook, the most-sold dental textbook in history, has provided a tremendous reference and roadmap to the care of countless numbers of patients and has provided stepping stones to successful occlusal rehabilitation to dentists for many years. Few individuals have had the far-reaching impact on the profession and beyond as has Dr. Dawson.”

Dr. Dawson is not finished with his involvement in dentistry. He has just put the finishing touches on a 41-chapter book — his fifth — titled “The Complete Dentist,” co-written with his colleagues at The Dawson Academy.

Dr. Dawson will be cutting his time in Denver short, for he has a seminar back in St. Petersburg the same weekend, “Functional Occlusion — From TMJ to Smile Design.”

“I have more enthusiasm than I’ve ever had,” he said.

Dr. Dawson will be presented the award at the Opening General Session on Oct. 20 from 8-9 a.m. The Opening General Session is presented by ACT Oral Care.

ADA 2016 – America’s Dental Meeting will convene in Denver Oct. 20-24.

ADA 2016 registration is open. For the most updated information, visit ADA.org/meeting. Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter using #ADADEN.