10 Under 10: From medicine to endodontics, Dr. William Arden on his dental journey around the world

Photo of Dr. Arden
Fresh air: Dr. William Arden poses for a photo during a hike in Malbun, Liechtenstein.
Editor’s note: Dr. William “Brennan” Arden, of Foxboro, Massachusetts, U.S. Navy, 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. Arden’s service in the military has included an overseas tour in the Indian Ocean at one of the world’s most remote dental clinics, a year-long humanitarian mission in four south Pacific countries where he led a team that treated 4,000 dental patients, performed 12,000 dental procedures valued at over $1.2 million, and planned and initiated the first dental summit in Vietnam.  Via the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, he also spent two months in Rwanda developing and implementing a new endodontics curriculum.

Editor's note: The American Dental Association is seeking nominations through Dec. 31 to recognize 10 new dentists in 2021. Honorees will receive a $1,000 gift card and be recognized in various ADA publications and channels. For more information or to nominate a new dentist, visit ADA.org/10under10.

When asked about his greatest moment in dentistry, Dr. William Arden reflects on his time volunteering in Rwanda, tasked with helping to create an undergraduate endodontics curriculum for a newly opened dental school:

“It really opened my eyes and allowed me to learn a little bit more about teaching and international dentistry, as well as seeing what resources they had in Rwanda,” he said. “I made a lot of good friends there, and can say that the first two graduating classes of dentists from Rwanda are endodontically trained by me, which is a proud thing to be able to say.”

And to think, dentistry was not his first choice.

He initially set out to pursue a career as a physician but decided to enter dental school after two years of medical school. Dr. Arden initially felt that it would be a big compromise to move into dentistry, feeling that it wouldn’t be as challenging or rewarding. However, in 2011, he graduated from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

“I've been very pleasantly surprised going into dentistry from medicine, especially with what it has allowed me to do with my personal and professional life,” Dr. Arden said. “I never imagined that I would be an endodontist today, but dentistry also allows you the freedom in your home life to have a family, hobbies, travel, do music, whatever you want to do. I wouldn't have gotten that same lifestyle in medicine, for sure. So ever since I became a dentist, I've always been happy with my choice and never regretted it.”

Dr. William Arden credits his journey into dentistry to his mother, who worked in a dental office, and his orthodontist, who he described as being "good with his bedside manner."

“I think dentistry is an interesting profession because it's a lot like being a car mechanic,” he said. “You can take your car to 10 different mechanics, and they will all tell you something different. You can go to 10 different dentists and they will give you 10 different treatment plans. I think a big part for me that patients appreciate is that I can afford a little bit more honesty, especially coming out of the military.”

Dr. Arden said patients have a fond appreciation for his integrity in treatment planning.

“I'm not afraid to tell them what they need, or don’t need,” he said. “So I think just being honest is a very important part of dentistry because the profession is so fluid. You can tell patients pretty much anything, and they really have no option but to trust you—that’s a strong responsibility.”

The trust between patient and doctor, especially considering his work in public health, can be humbling.

“I've been around the world and have seen what other countries do and what they can and can't afford,” he said. “And I just think, wow, we're so advanced compared to a lot of places, but yet what we do is still out of reach of so many people, even in our own country.”

Harking back to his time serving in the Navy, Dr. William Arden said he had an “aha moment” during his time overseas.

“While in places like Indonesia, the Philippines, and Papa New Guinea, I saw what impact the dental industry could have, especially from a humanitarian point of view,” he said. “And seeing what we have in America versus what others don't have across the world was eye-opening for me. I realized then just how far we still have to go."