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10 Under 10: For Dr. Amber Ather, the path to dental career spans two continents

October 06, 2021

By Jean Williams

Photo of Dr. Ather with wife in Alaska
Explorer: Dr. Amber Ather and his wife, Dr. Hunaiza Ather, visit Alaska. “I’ve traveled to probably 15 or 20 national parks in the U.S. in the past five or six years," he said. "Me and my wife love to travel to national parks. We have done a lot of traveling in the U.S. We both do a lot of photography. That is something that we both share.”

Photo of Dr. Ather graduation
Graduation: Dr. Ather completed his Master of Science in Dental Science in endodontics this year at University of Texas Health San Antonio, where he also taught as clinical faculty.
Editor’s note: Amber Ather, D.D.S., of San Antonio, is one of the recipients of this year’s 10 Under 10 Awards, which recognizes new dentists who demonstrate excellence early in their careers. Dr. Ather’s colleagues fondly refers to him as “Google” for his in-depth knowledge of the clinical sciences. In 2020, he was among the authors of the study, “Coronavirus Disease 19 (COVID-19): Implications for Clinical Dental Care,” published in the Journal of Endodontics. Dr. Ather, a clinical faculty member at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, also received a $20,000 grant from the American Association of Endodontics Foundation for Endodontics to investigate the effect of dexamethasone in vital pulp therapies. For more information, visit ADA.org/10under10.

Dentistry was so nice, he did it twice.

Amber Ather, D.D.S., became a dentist in India, his home country, and later decided to pursue the profession, along with his wife, abroad in America.

He grew up in Lucknow, India, near the capital in the northern part of the country, in a family devoted to health care careers.

“It was very natural for me to go into that lane,” Dr. Ather said.

He drove the lane all the way to the U.S., where he has taken on a new faculty position at Virginia Commonwealth University as an assistant professor in the Department of Endodontics (as well as director of the emergency dental unit).

Dr. Ather has contributed a number of papers to dental literature at various publications, including last year’s highly-accessed “Coronavirus Disease 19 (COVID-19): Implications for Clinical Dental Care” in the Journal of Endodontics.

For his accomplishments, he was named among the 2021 ADA 10 Under 10 Awards recipients.

Both of Dr. Ather’s parents are physicians. Eventually, they moved their family from Lucknow to a “company town,” where they worked at a hospital that cared for an electrical power plant’s employees.

“It was not a big settlement,” Dr. Ather said. “It was a suburb of Lucknow. So, we were always kind of used to small towns and communities.”

Dr. Ather as a child
Childhood: As a child and teen, Dr. Ather excelled in math, biology, chemistry and physics. But, they were not all created equally for him. "“To be honest, somehow I didn’t used to like math,” he said. “There was something about biology that I always used to like."
As a child and teen, Dr. Ather excelled in math, biology, chemistry and physics. But, they were not all created equally for him.

“To be honest, somehow I didn’t used to like math,” he said. “There was something about biology that I always used to like … all those subjects of medical sciences that I used to have interest in right from a very early age. We used to be taught in early childhood about botany, plant science and health sciences, like animals and everything … but math never suited me.

“In India, you have this system where either you choose math as a subject or you choose biology as a subject when you study. Naturally, it was no doubt in my mind that I would choose biology.”

As their parents had, Dr. Ather’s older brother ultimately elected to pursue medicine as a physician.

“He is four years elder to me and when I was in high school, he went into medical school,” Dr. Ather said. “I always used to look up to him. That kind of triggered me that I wanted to do something in the health professions.”

Although he looked up to his physician brother and parents, Dr. Ather chose dentistry for himself. The process for gaining a spot in dental school is markedly different in India than in the U.S. The competition is considerable and there’s a massive exam given to pare down a huge pool of applicants.

“It’s a big competition,” Dr. Ather said. “Basically, for 100 seats, probably more than 5,000 people will be given that exam. Some people wait for two or three years, taking the exam again and again, to get a seat in dental or medical school.”

Those interested in Indian dental or medical schools don’t first go to undergraduate colleges or universities. They go directly into their health profession education after selection. Dr. Ather ranked high enough after testing that he earned a seat at one of the top dental schools in the country, Manipal University — in the southern part of India, 1,300 miles from where he grew up.

The city of Manipal was unlike Lucknow in many ways, Dr. Ather said.

“The culture down south in India is totally different,” he said. “The language is different. The food is different. Almost everything is different. It’s not like the U.S. It’s not like going from New York to Texas. It’s like you are going to a different country.”

His time at Manipal would change Dr. Ather’s life in one other significant way. In his first year, he met his wife, Dr. Hunaiza Ather, who is also a dentist.

“She had come all the way from Dubai to the dental school in India,” he said. “That’s another 3,000 miles. We dated until 2007, and in 2007 we married. Interestingly, Manipal was her hometown where her parents used to live.”

Photo of Dr. Ather and family
Family: Dr. Ather (right) with his family in Alabama.
Dr. Ather earned his Bachelor of Dental Surgery in 2007 and began teaching as an assistant professor at Manipal, where he even taught fellow 10 Under 10 Awards honoree Sampada Deshpande, D.D.S.  He later earned his Master of Dental Surgery in 2012 from Manipal after completing a three-year restorative dentistry and endodontics residency as his wife went into private practice. He taught courses in restorative dentistry and endodontics at Manipal from 2011-13.

In late 2013, Dr. Ather set out for other dental adventures — to pursue a career in America.

“We used to visit my brother here,” he said. “During those 10 years, 2000 to 2010, he made his move to the U.S. to pursue further education. He did his residency first in New York. Then he did his Ph.D. at UT Houston and his fellowship at the University of Alabama.

“When he was in Houston, in 2010, that’s when we started visiting him. My wife just fell in love with the U.S. when she came here. She loved the independence here, especially because she was from Dubai.”

After traveling to the U.S. a few more times, Dr. Ather himself fell in love with the country. The couple began applying to U.S. dental schools. “Luckily, both of us got into the University of Colorado,” he said. “So, here we are.”

After clearing dental board exams and the program acceptance, Dr. Ather rematriculated, along with his wife, for two more years of school in the international dental program at the University of Colorado, where they both earned Doctor of Dental Surgery degrees in 2015.

They then became Texans for a while when both signed on as dental supervisors at nonprofit health care community centers in Houston. In 2018, Dr. Ather decided to pursue more advanced dental education.

“I wanted to do more endodontics, so I applied again,” he said.

He completed his Master of Science in Dental Science in endodontics this year at University of Texas Health San Antonio, where he also taught as clinical faculty and completed research alongside Anibal Diogenes, D.D.S., Ph.D.

He serves on the scientific advisory board of the Journal of Endodontics and the American Association of Endodontists (AAE) practice affairs committee. The American Association of Endodontists Foundation for Endodontics (AAEF) granted him $20,000 to investigate dexamethasone in vital pulp therapies.

When away from his teaching, research and practice duties, Dr. Ather enjoys photography excursions with his wife.

“That is something which I have done a lot, I think, here in the U.S. especially,” he said. “I’ve traveled to probably 15 or 20 national parks in the U.S. in the past five or six years. Me and my wife love to travel to national parks. We have done a lot of traveling in the U.S. We both do a lot of photography. That is something that we both share.”

He shares the fruit from this avocation on his Instagram profile and has even been featured in National Geographic and other similar publications.