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Just a Dentist

2016 Alumni Achievement Award Winner, BYU College of Life Sciences

Daniel Orr (BS ’72) always wanted to be a dentist. In eighth grade, Orr went to an Eagle Scout career day and was impressed by a video of a dentist and his colleagues who saved a woman with throat cancer. Today, although he is an oral maxillofacial surgeon, a lawyer, an anesthesiologist, an author, a professor, and a forensic scientist, he still claims dentistry first.

Before he was a dentist, Orr was a Boy Scout. He loved scouting, and credits it with keeping him on the straight and narrow while he was growing up in Southern California. Orr says, “Scouting was a singularly positive influence for me early on. I was fortunate to find the Scouts, which taught me important principles.” He found positive male role models within the group—something he lacked at home due to his father’s alcoholism. Orr’s parents eventually divorced, and he and his younger siblings were raised by their mother, who, Orr says, “was as stable as my dad was challenged.”

His mother had been an actress, but when Orr was born, she decided to end her acting career. Orr remembers, “She’d introduce me to Hollywood actors from time to time and from whom we’d receive Christmas cards… One day, when I was young, I asked my mother, “Mom, why aren’t you a movie star?” And she said, ‘Well, I decided I’d have a baby instead.’ I responded, ‘Oh, okay.’ Then, a day or two later, I suddenly understood, Oh! That was me. I’m the one that messed up mom’s fame and fortune.” Instead of becoming a movie star, Orr’s mother worked as a saleswoman for Amway as well as a mail carrier for the US Postal Service. She was also a PTA President and Cub Scout Den Leader. Though busy working multiple jobs on top of raising three kids, Orr’s mother welcomed into her home the two missionaries who had knocked on her door. Orr was ready to listen to the missionaries’ message and, while still in high school, chose to be baptized.

Becoming a member of the Church changed Orr’s life. He was able to forgive and reconcile with his father after coming to understand Heavenly Father’s unconditional love and forgiveness. His baptism also put him on the path to BYU, where he graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in zoology. Orr later attended the University of Southern California to earn his DDS with honors. Though he had not previously considered himself an academic, his other degrees seemed to follow naturally. Many dentists have anesthesiology training, and Orr took on the challenge at the University of Utah School of Medicine, where he earned an MD. Later in his career, Orr was sued and faced with a confusing lawsuit. Unable to make sense of the reasoning behind the case itself, he decided to educate himself by enrolling in law school. The case was eventually dismissed, but Orr finished his J.D. and become a member of the California Bar.

Daniel Orr’s days are as diverse as his background. Every morning for the past 20 years, he has woken up to teach early morning seminary, a calling he loves. He’ll then spend part of the morning in his private office helping reconstruct the mouths and faces of patients suffering from traumatic injuries. Later, he walks over to the UNLV School of Dental Medicine campus, where he is Professor and Director of Anesthesiology and Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery. Since the early 1980’s he has also offered his medical expertise as part of the sports medicine staff for the UNLV’s athletic teams. In the time between these jobs, he writes chapters for textbooks and serves as Editor for the Nevada Dental Association Journal and as Editor-in-Chief of the American Association of Dental Editors and Journalists. In earlier years, he would often help the Clark County Coroner identify bodies from dental records, and even helped with forensics after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.

Of all his titles, however, “dad” is his favorite. He is the father of nine kids ranging from ages 8 to 40 years old. Reflecting on his experience as a parent, he says, “I’ve learned at least as much from my kids as I’ve taught them.” No stranger to being overwhelmed by his numerous responsibilities, Orr laughs and says, “Sometimes I just shake my head and say, ‘How did I do that?’ But I think it’s really just the hand of the Lord. He helps us do worthy work, and he allows things to happen in a timely fashion so that our lives aren’t as chaotic as they could be. All of this is so that we can accomplish good things while recognizing the truth of the Restored Gospel and Plan of Salvation.”

Full Name: Daniel L. Orr II
Grad Year: BS 1972
College: Life Sciences
Major: Zoology
Post date: January 27, 2020
Author: Kayla Spencer, Mackenzie Sinclair