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Known internationally as ‘T. Bob’, Dr. Davis receives 2018 ADA Humanitarian Award

January 08, 2018

By David Burger

2018 ADA Humanitarian Award recipient known internationally as ‘T. Bob’ photo collage

Dallas — In recognition of more than four decades of service, which includes a continuing commitment to Latin America and his community in Texas, the ADA has selected Dr. Thomas Bobby Davis as the 2018 ADA Humanitarian Award recipient.

The name shouldn’t ring a bell.

That’s because he is best known through the global dental community, as well as to his patients, as, simply, “T. Bob.”

“They can call me anything, as long as they call me for breakfast, lunch and supper,” Dr. Davis joked.

Dr. T. Bob Davis posing at a Steinway & Sons concert piano
Renaissance man: 2018 Humanitarian Award recipient Dr. T. Bob Davis is also an accomplished pianist, posing at a Steinway & Sons concert piano.

The immediate past president of the Academy of Dentistry International, Dr. Davis has brought more than 1,500 dental students, and about 500 dentists, to Mexico and Central America over the past 36 years on dental humanitarian missions. Every spring break, Dr. Davis leads dental students from Texas A&M University College of Dentistry and the University of Texas School of Dentistry at Houston to a place in the world where access to care is nonexistent and the need is great.

"I was honored to be able to tell very active ADA member Dr. T. Bob Davis that he will be awarded the ADA Humanitarian Award at ADA 2018 – America's Dental Meeting in Honolulu," said ADA President Joseph P. Crowley. "Dr. Davis, who is extremely well-known throughout the organization for his volunteerism, has been leading dental mission trips to Mexico, Nicaragua and Guatemala since 1977. He has inspired many of those students to initiate their own humanitarian efforts, both internationally and in their own communities. On top of that, Dr. Davis has devoted so much time to his beloved Dallas through his own humanitarian efforts. He truly embodies humanitarian ideals and attributes by demonstrating significant leadership and outstanding volunteer accomplishments that bring honor to the profession. Dr. Davis is selfless and his legacy of paying it forward will live on in future generations."

Upon receiving the phone call from Dr. Crowley in November, Dr. Davis, an accomplished pianist, thought the ADA president was calling to commend him for his musicianship at a recent meeting the two had attended.
Paul Smith, Dr. Jody Yarbro, Yvette Martinez, Dr. Davis, Dr. Bob Meyer, John Ratliff and Diane Meyer
All smiles: Dr. T. Bob Davis huddles together with some of the volunteers whom he led to Guatemala for a 2017 humanitarian trip. From left, Paul Smith, Dr. Jody Yarbro, Yvette Martinez, Dr. Davis, Dr. Bob Meyer, John Ratliff and Diane Meyer.

To Dr. Davis' surprise, Dr. Crowley informed him that the Board of Trustees had chosen him as the recipient of the 2018 Humanitarian Award. Dr. Davis said he teared up and cried when he heard the news.

"I don't deserve it," Dr. Davis told the ADA News. "Those who deserve it are all the people who have been with me all over the years.”

One of those dentists is Dr. Chad Allen, a Texas dentist who first met Dr. Davis on one of his dental mission trips to Mexico as a freshman in dental school. "If every dental student followed Dr. Davis' example, there would be no problem with access to care," Dr. Allen said in a letter supporting Dr. Davis' nomination for the award.

Dr. Allen described what he called the "T. Bob Effect": inspiring hundreds of dentists to continue serving the underserved all over the world having first experienced the life-changing volunteerism that Dr. Davis exposed them to.

Dr. David Toney, a Texas dentist, has traveled on nearly 20 dental missions over the world, most of them with Dr. Davis. "It is a rare privilege to personally know someone who has affected the trajectory of hundreds of lives towards passionate humanitarian kindness and service," Dr. Toney said in a nomination letter. "Dr. Davis has inspired hundreds of dental students to become dental missionaries for their entire careers. He is one of the rare people who has changed our world for good and has a legacy of hundreds of dentists and hygienists who will always be willing to serve the neediest.”
Chris Shin, Megan Luna, Abigail Livesay, Blake Hamblin and Raven Grant receive thanks from local students in San Raymundo, Guatemala
Hugging line: Dental students, from left, Chris Shin, Megan Luna, Abigail Livesay, Blake Hamblin and Raven Grant receive thanks from local students in San Raymundo, Guatemala, for treating them with dental care on a humanitarian trip led by Dr. T. Bob Davis in 2017.

Texas pediatric dentist Dr. Jon McClure has accompanied Dr. Davis on his mission trips eight times, including two pre-mission trips to help organize and prepare the mission locations. "Some of these locations have been so remote that you have to travel out way past where public roads exist and then going farther and farther until you run out of road and have to pile in a boat to reach fishing villages out on islands where people live without electricity," he said in a letter supporting Dr. Davis' nomination for the award. "He would do everything he could each visit to try to help as many people as possible. If there did not seem to be a way, he would not stop until he found a way.”

A native of Troy, Alabama, with degrees from Samford University and the University of Alabama School of Dentistry, Dr. Davis had been practicing for almost 10 years before he went on his first overseas humanitarian trip in 1977. He had been talking about taking the plunge for years, but for one reason or another, he had never done it. It was Dr. Davis' wife, Janis, who signed him up for his first one, unbeknownst to him. "Later that evening, she told me, 'Put up or shut up,'" Dr. Davis said with a laugh.

Dorothy Hino and Dr. Rachel Sells treat a young patient in a Guatemala operatory
Vital assistance: Dental student Dorothy Hino and Dr. Rachel Sells treat a young patient in a Guatemala operatory during their humanitarian trip led by Dr. T. Bob Davis to the Central American country in March.

Once he went, he caught the bug, realizing how much good he could do. One of his mottos is, "Do what you can, while you still can." Five years after his first overseas trip, he began bringing students from the local dental schools with him.

After more than three decades of trips to Matamoros, Mexico, escalating violence in that border town led Dr. Davis to search for another volunteer location where he and the students would be relatively safe. He eventually ended up in San Raymundo, Guatemala. March 2018 will mark his seventh annual trip to San Raymundo.  In that time, he has established a dental home for the residents, treating the neediest in the area, some who have never seen a dentist.

Dr. Davis considered his sixth trip to San Raymundo, in March 2017, to be the most successful yet. He was accompanied by 16 dentists and 50 dental students — 21 from Texas A&M University College of Dentistry and 29 from The University of Texas School of Dentistry at Houston. His team treated 820 people, delivering more than $329,000 worth of dental care.

Dr. T. Bob Davis with locals, dentists, hygienists, dental and hygiene students, dental assistants and interpreters pose in San Raymundo, Guatemala
All together now: With Dr. T. Bob Davis seated in front, locals, dentists, hygienists, dental and hygiene students, dental assistants and interpreters pose for a group photo in between soccer games in San Raymundo, Guatemala, in March 2017.

John Ratliff, a third-year dental student at Texas A&M, has served with Dr. Davis in Guatemala for the past two years. "(I learned I) can make a difference in changing people's lives," he said. "You see everything you see in school, in practice.”

Dr. Davis' trips have become annual rites of passage among many Texas A&M and UT-Houston dental students, who gravitate toward the trips in part because of Dr. Davis' longtime ties to the Christian Dental Society as well as the Christian Medical and Dental Association. "The trips are a testament to people buying into T. Bob's message," Mr. Ratliff said. "He says, 'Take a leap of faith and be of service to others.'”

Mr. Ratliff said he was initially skeptical. "I said, 'San Raymundo, where is that?' I was a little nervous, but Dr. Davis is so organized and the dentists are so inspirational with their commitment to impacting the youth.”

Dr. T. Bob Davis with a group of volunteers at the Filadelfia Coffee Resort
Come together: Dr. T. Bob Davis, at the far right with a megaphone, poses with the group of volunteers he led to Guatemala in 2017 at the Filadelfia Coffee Resort. 

Dr. Davis' service to the underserved has not been limited to Guatemala and Mexico. Dr. Davis, who has lived in Dallas since 1969, has served with distinction locally and nationally in organizations such as the Academy of General Dentistry, the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and the Southern Baptist Convention. He has volunteered years of service to his church as deacon, youth worker and pianist while devoting his dental expertise to children's homes and schools in his home state of Texas. He was the 2014 recipient of Dentist of the Year, given out by the Texas Academy of General Dentistry.

The ADA Humanitarian Award recognizes dentist members who have distinguished themselves by giving at least 10 years to improving the oral health of underserved populations in the United States and abroad. The award includes $10,000 given to the dental charity/project of the recipient's choice. The deadline for nominations is Sept. 15 of each year.

Dr. Davis' peers echo the ADA's praise. "He is selfless and by example teaches those with him to give where their help is needed," said Dr. Richard M. Smith, a Texas dentist and treasurer of the International College of Dentists. "This example has led many to become more involved with this needed work. This involvement has multiplied the impact of his mission work by expanding the numbers of those who serve others.”

To explore international oral health volunteer opportunities, go to the ADA Foundation's International Dental Volunteer Organizations website: internationalvolunteer.ADA.org.