Alumnus Sakaguchi becomes dean of Oregon Health & Science University

Ronald Sakaguchi headshot

Ronald Sakaguchi, DDS, MS, PhD, MBA, Prosthodontics ’84, became dean of the Oregon Health & Science University’s School of Dentistry on December 2, after serving as interim dean of the school since October 2020.

“Under Dr. Sakaguchi’s leadership, the School of Dentistry has continued to provide high-quality education to its learners and outstanding oral health care for its patients, and has expanded its research portfolio despite the uncertainty and complexity of the pandemic, race-related tragedies and environmental disasters,” David Robinson, PhD, interim executive vice president and provost at Oregon Health and Science University was quoted as saying in a message to ADEA leadership. “The appointment provides continuity for the school through the next accreditation cycle and expands outreach to our community.”

Members of the MDRCBB including Ronald Sakaguchi
Sakaguchi poses with members of the MDRCBB team during his time at the School of Dentistry

 Sakaguchi began his studies at Northwestern University Dental School in Chicago, before heading to the University of Minnesota for advanced Prosthodontics training. “Minnesota’s program was the only program in the Midwest that combined fixed, removable and maxillofacial prosthodontics,” Sakaguchi reflected on his decision to attend the School of Dentistry. After studying the development of a device to evaluate temporomandibular joint function for his Prosthodontics master’s degree, Sakaguchi worked with Bill Douglas, BDS, MS, PhD, Ralph DeLong, PhD, DDS, MS, and Maria Pintado, MPH, in the Minnesota Dental Research Center for Biomaterials and Biomechanics, where he worked until 1994 before pursuing a career in administration, research, and teaching.

Sakaguchi’s time at the School of Dentistry prepared him well for his future. In fact, he is one of three prosthodontics graduates who graduated in consecutive years and went on to become deans: Gary Anderson, DDS, MS, completed training a year before him, and a year after Sakaguchi completed his studies, Ihab Hammad, BDS, MS, PhD, completed his and became dean of the Faculty of Dentistry at Alexandria University. Sakaguchi noted that Richard Goodkind, DDS, MS, then-director of graduate prosthodontics in the Division of Prosthodontics, “was training leaders as well as prosthodontists.” 

More specifically, Sakaguchi credits the prosthodontics program for teaching him to “have a big picture, as well as a very precise, focused view.” He is able to translate that view, inherent in the balance between treatment planning and the precision of prosthodontic care, into his view as dean, where he must balance long-term and more immediate goals.

He’s also grateful for his mentors and the leaders who inspired him along the road, including Douglas, DeLong and Pintado. “I’ve been fortunate to have fantastic mentors who were influential,” he said. “They provided me a research home and took a chance on me when I was just emerging. It set my research career and taught me how much research is a team science. It was a remarkable experience.”

As interim dean, Sakaguchi focused on listening, learning and leading through the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic, racial injustices and environmental catastrophes in the Pacific Northwest, while also reforming connections he had made during his time at the school. As dean, he looks forward to “moving with more confidence” and looking toward the future. He plans to increase diversity, work with underserved communities to reduce healthcare disparities and create better channels for traditionally underrepresented groups to consider careers in dentistry. And throughout the process, he knows he has the support of his Minnesota community with him.

“I felt that I had a network, almost immediately, that I never expected coming into this role,” he said. “There are so many Minnesota connections, too. A lot of strategies and initiatives that other schools are just starting to pursue, Minnesota has been doing for decades.”