The Interview: Dr. David Ord

During his high school years, Dr. David Ord adamantly opposed dentistry as a career path. Today, he has more than 30 years of experience as a private practitioner, dental educator, forensic dentist, and a key member of the team that helped make UNLV School of Dental Medicine a reality.

What inspired you to get into dentistry?

My father and his friend, Dr. John Tall, who was an oral surgeon, nudged me toward the profession. When Dr. Tall would visit, he would often say, “You know, you should get into dentistry.” And I told him, “I will never be a dentist – absolutely never be a dentist.” I was in high school and at that point, I wasn’t even really interested in the medical field. I was looking more at the physical sciences. 

I then met a physician and rode back with him from a conference. We started talking about medicine, and I became really interested. So, I learned how to work as a certified nurse assistant within an acute care hospital and continued throughout my undergraduate years. That was part of my way of working through college and through dental school when I got to that point. 

From there, I pursued nursing thinking I would transition to medical school. But after a while, I realized I didn’t like working nights. So, I started switching my majors around. I went to psychology, then back to nursing, then to medicine. Finally, I recognized that dentistry would give me what I wanted: A regular day schedule, working with people, and using my hands. That and my wife told me I was done changing majors.

Tell me about an ‘a-ha’ moment you’ve had during your career. 

Oh, there have been a few. One of them was that I learned more from teaching students than the students probably learned from me. There are things that I did in dentistry because that’s what I was taught. When I started teaching, I had to explain the reasons why. I knew the “how,” but teaching students helped me remember the “why.” The students brought this knowledge out, which enhanced my skills. Now, I try to reveal that “why” during my instruction so the students have that a-ha moment a little earlier than I did. 

What’s your best tip or advice for somebody new to UNLV? 

Get involved with the school and get involved with the community. Doing this will make your education experience much more enjoyable. 

Tell me about an object in your office and what it represents to you.

There are three items that come to mind. This may seem morbid, but two of them are parts of a skull. One is a plastic model of a lower human jaw that simulates the appearance of one found in the ground after many years. The other is a model of a more complete skull, and these represent my work in forensic dentistry. Up until just recently, I have been working with the Clark County coroner’s office helping to identify bodies – from tiny little babies to senior citizens. I have a love for helping people, especially those who can’t speak for themselves. This is one area where I can help those who have been lost or forgotten, and help bring closure to their loved ones.

The third item is a plaque from the American Society of Forensic Odontologists commemorating my role as a co-editor for the Forensic Dentistry Manual. It’s a how-to book for people to learn forensic dentistry, which is one of my passions. 

How did you get involved in forensic dentistry? 

The school’s founder, Dr. Raymond Rawson, and the school’s first dean, Dr. Steven Smith, were forensic dentists and began mentoring me when I first joined the school. I started doing cases with them and received training. They also got me involved with the coroner’s office. I later joined the American Society of Forensic Odontology and the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, continued my training, and eventually became the chief forensic odontologist for Clark County.

Is the portrayal of forensic dentistry on popular TV shows accurate?

(Spoiler alert!) Not really. I wish we had some of the things they use on those shows. For instance, they can take a portable X-ray unit, scan the victim’s mouth, log into a database of dental x-rays, and wait for a match to appear. It’s not that easy. For starters, such a database doesn’t exist. Also, you need to gather more information about the teeth, such as fillings or unique identifiers before comparing those details to an X-ray. And forensic tasks are divided up within a group of people. One person does not “solve” the mystery.

Based on the recent stories about human remains being discovered at Lake Mead, will forensic dentistry play a role in the investigations?

Oh, yes. I am not as attached to the coroner’s office as I used to be, but dental forensics is very much a part of the investigation. Even if those folks can’t identify the individual, they will chart the mouth and take new X-rays, which could help solve the case in the future.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?

Intolerance – I get annoyed when one person fails to recognize another as an individual and relies on stereotypes or associations to assume what that person’s character will be.

What’s your best tip for staying cool in the summer? 

Stay indoors. 

Do you have a favorite holiday or unique family tradition? 

My family is half German, so we buy traditional holiday bakery items such as stollen and lebkuchen. 

My ideal summer vacation is . . .

Going up to the mountains and just enjoying the countryside. 

You’ve been with the dental school before it officially opened in 2002. What has kept you here?

Being here for 20-plus years means a lot to me. I believe in this school, and I truly enjoy working with the students. When they tell me about something they have learned, it makes my day. I see this place as something good for UNLV and good for the community. For me, the school can only go forward and upward, and I want to be part of that for as long as I can.


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