Finding Adventure in Prosthodontics

Dr. Richard Dryer

Dr. Richard Dryer was on a predictable path. After completing his Doctor of Dental Surgery degree at the University of Michigan and a general dentistry residency in Dayton, Ohio, he settled into a general dentistry practice in Chicago.

But after two years he and his wife, Dr. Rekha Dryer, wanted a change. They applied to the Indian Health Service and accepted positions as dentists at a clinic on the remote Zuni Indian Reservation in northwestern New Mexico.

“We got the itch to see a different part of the country, to do something different, to have an adventure,” he said. “We planned to stay on the reservation two years, but ended up staying for five. There are days now that I wish we were still there. It is a beautiful place with fantastic people a rich culture and heritage, but heartbreaking, too, due to the poverty.”

Whole Health Care

Dryer says the work was intense but also very rewarding and different from the work he had been doing in Chicago. One difference, he said, was the health center’s commitment to a team approach to treating the whole patient, involving physicians, dentists, public health nurses, pharmacists, dieticians and others.

“We were able to address oral health as part of the overall care for each individual, as well as make important inroads in the community to address oral health disparities through public health dentistry initiatives such as water fluoridation and mobile dentistry at schools,” he said. “We saw a lot of medically compromised patients with diabetes, chronic kidney disease, organ transplants and cancer. Our work as dentists was always part of a broader health care plan. It was very effective.”

It was on the Zuni Reservation that Dryer gained more exposure to prosthodontics. He worked with prosthodontist Dr. David Jimenez to treat the more complex cases, but Dryer was frustrated he could not do more himself to meet the tremendous need for prosthetic dentistry on the reservation.

“I found I could start projects, but did not always have a plan to finish them,” he said. “We work backwards in prosthodontics, starting with a very clear vision of the outcome. It requires creativity, strategy and planning. I needed to learn more.”

On to Minnesota

Dryer applied to six residency programs across the country and said he ultimately chose Minnesota because it was a small program where the ratio of complex prosthetic patients to residents was high and he could earn a Master of Science degree in conjunction with specialty training. Returning to school at age 35 was challenging, he said, and coincided with the birth of his first child.

As a person who thrives on change, he said the move to prosthodontics was a good fit personally and professionally.

“All the latest advancements are in prosthodontics from digital treatment planning to digital impressions to guided implant surgery and 3D printing,” Dryer said. “It is a fun time to be in this field.”

After graduating, he accepted a position at the University of Minnesota as a full time faculty member in the Division of Prosthodontics where Program Director Dr. Heather Conrad gave him the opportunity to help develop a program for residents to perform dental implant surgery, prosthetic-related surgery and incorporate intravenous moderate sedation into the graduate program.

After two years of teaching, Dryer and his family moved back to Chicago where he and his wife launched their own start-up practice. Seven Hills Dental and Implant Center offers a hybrid of general dentistry, prosthodontics and implant dentistry, including IV sedation, dental implant placement and prosthetic-related surgery.

Dryer has maintained a close connection to the Minnesota program as an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the residency program.  

“Dr. Conrad is truly a visionary in the field of prosthodontics,” he said. “I enjoy working with her and the entire graduate prosthodontics team. The residents are enthusiastic, full of energy and keep me on my toes. I look forward to my teaching days in Minnesota!”

The next adventure

As if building a practice, teaching and parenting two busy children were not enough, Dr. Dryer has just been accepted into a part-time three-year maxillofacial prosthetics sub-specialty program through Kings College in London. The program’s clinical component involves treating patients in Pune, India over a two year period.

“I love what I’m doing. I love the complexity of prosthodontics,” he said. “It is artistic and you get to see the end result.”