December 28, 2019 at 4:42 a.m.

Fifty and beyond

Dunn started on different path, but dentistry practice now spans five decades, two generations

By Charles Melton-

It could have been Dunn Family Civil Engineering.

That was the path Thomas Dunn I started on.

But he changed his focus, and more than 50 years later Dunn Family Dental Care, led initially by Dunn I and now by his son Thomas Dunn II, is continuing to serve patients from Portland and the surrounding area.

Dunn I headed off to Purdue University to pursue a degree in civil engineering. But the dentist his wife worked for persuaded him to try a different path that has now led to five decades of dentistry.

In addition to his academic studies at Purdue, Dunn I was also in the Air Force Reserve Officer’s Training Core (ROTC) program. That led to his first assignment in dentistry.

Instead of being drafted into the military, he followed the ROTC path into the Air Force. He served as a dentist for two years stationed at Lowry Air Force Base in Colorado.

One of the differences in being a dentist for the military is “you got a colonel telling you how you're going to do it in the service and sometimes that's not the way you would do it yourself,” said Dunn I.

But practicing in the military also had its advantages. He worked with more than 20 dentists who came from schools all over the country.

“So it was considerably confining in some ways, yet at the same time, you got a chance to explore new ideas from maybe things you didn't see as much of when you were in school,” Dunn I added. “So I thought it was a good learning experience.”

He brought that experience back to Portland with him. He opened his practice in August 1968.

Thomas Dunn II was in his early days of elementary school then. But by the time he was preparing for seventh grade, he started working with his father. He mowed the lawn, cleaned rooms and ran the x-ray machine.

Still, a career in dentistry wasn’t in the plans. Like his father, Dunn II started on a different path — telecommunications — when he embarked on his college education at Indiana University. But, again, that didn’t last. He later realized how much he enjoyed working with his father and decided to give dentistry “a shot.”

Dunn II liked the way his father had lived, he said, and that dentistry was also something that was familiar to him. He veered off his father’s path in heading right back home to join the practice rather than going the military route.

“Most of the people who went to the services either had that in mind when they went to dental school or they did not have a plan (after) dental school, and my plan was to work with him,” Dunn II said.

He joined his father in the Portland practice in 1988. He purchased the practice 10 years later.

Dunn I continued to play an important role in the practice before retiring in the early 2000s and still continues to be a sounding board for his son nearly two decades later.

“We always, (for) as long as he was here, of course, he had a lot of input,” said Dunn II. “You know, still today, even though he's retired still today I’ll call him and ask him things.”

Looking into the future, Dunn II said he would like to continue the work his father started, which he referred to as a “patient-centered, family oriented dental practice.”

Also among his goals are keeping the practice as up-to-date as possible.

“I mean, you know, technology is great. Sometimes it's very expensive, too, and marrying those two ideas is, I think, the challenge of a small-town practice,” Dunn II said, “but I think we've kind of walk that tightrope, and I think we've done a pretty good job.”
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