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Five years ago, Charles Dyer, IV, who specializes in periodontology and implantology, filled out an application â€œon a whim,â€ and soon thereafter found himself thrust into a world of performing restorative work on exotic captive animals.
“I wanted to be a veterinarian my entire life. I molded my extracurricular activities, job opportunities and observations toward veterinary medicine.” --Charles Dyer, IV, D.D.S., M.S., P.C.
“Lions, and tigers, and bears,” might have been a call for help for Dorothy and her three companions in The Wizard of Oz. But for Charles Dyer, IV, D.D.S., M.S., P.C., a Cypress, Texas-based periodontist, those same words represent a calling.
In 2013, Dyer was called on to perform work on a white tiger at Houston’s Downtown Aquarium—not your average house call, for sure. And while other oral health practitioners might have passed on the opportunity, Dyer knew he was coming home.
“I wanted to be a veterinarian my entire life,” Dyer says. “I molded my extracurricular activities, job opportunities and observations toward veterinary medicine.”
Life, however, has a way of pointing you in directions you hadn’t originally planned to take. That was the case for Dyer. Today, he finds himself right where he always wanted to be.
Dyer recalls that dentistry wasn’t even on his radar while growing up in Texas. But when it was clear that a career in veterinary medicine wasn’t going to pan out, he found himself in a what-will-I-do-now mode? But he had the benefit of growing up in a household with a father who was a successful pediatric dentist.
“Because my dad was a dentist, I knew a lot about it, and I felt I would be good at it,” Dyer says. “And as soon as I started down that career path I knew it was the right choice. It was what I was supposed to do. Dentistry has provided vast opportunities I don't think I would have otherwise gotten.”
His focus on periodontology and implantology, he says, was a bit serendipitous. He recalls getting exposed to a side of periodontology that most undergrads do not. He saw a side of dentistry that he relished from his father’s practice: community.
“I grew up in a small town and everyone knew my dad,” Dyer recalls. “We went to restaurants and people recognized him, and said, ‘Hi,’ and it was always a sense of family and community. So, I think that was the most significant factor in choosing perio for me.”
Dyer says he was “into reptiles” since he was a child, and one of his hobbies has been herpetology, the study of reptiles. While in dental school, he was introduced to, and became good friends with, a veterinarian who held free reptile clinics at a local pet store. So every Thursday night for about four years, Dyer hung out at the clinic.
“I would just glean information and talk reptiles,” Dyer says. “We became good friends, and still have that friendship today.”
That friendship paid huge dividends five years ago when the veterinarian was performing some restorative work on a tiger. He contacted Dyer to inquire about some of the materials he was using. When Dyer suggested he might want to try some of the materials he himself was using, the veterinarian suggested Dyer come down to the aquarium and do the work himself.
“I was like a kid,” Dyer says. “That was a life-long dream. It changed the course of my life.”
So exhilarating was the experience that Dyer immediately began researching other, similar opportunities. He found the Peter Emily International Veterinary Dental Foundation, whose mission is to provide advanced veterinary dental services for captive exotic animals in the U.S. and abroad.
Dyer checked out the organization and found its application process quite daunting, especially for a non-veterinarian. But he completed the application any way, not thinking it would amount to anything.
“You have to give it a try,” he says.
Dyer was accepted, and it opened up a whole new world for him. Today, he’s a staff practitioner, and sits on the organization’s advisory committee.
“It’s a huge part of my life,” he acknowledges. “It’s nothing I want to let go of.”
Since that day in 2013, Dyer has been on approximately 25 missions to provide dental services to captive exotic animals. He says that in many respects the procedures—restorative work like crowns and fillings—are the same as working on humans. The obvious difference, of course, is that anatomically, their teeth are much larger.
But there’s a greater challenge. As a periodontist, Dyer works on one species: humans who, beyond having baby teeth and then adult teeth, have one dentition.
“But in the veterinary world you’re working on hundreds of different species that have different dentitions,” Dyer explains. “The work is significantly more challenging in the sense that you have to have a much wider range of knowledge on how the dentitions and teeth are different.”
But performing restorative work on a lion or tiger? Any fears? Dyer says significant precautions are taken at the various sanctuaries to provide more than adequate care and anesthesia, so there’s never been a time where he felt in danger.
What he does feel, however, is a sense of awe and wonder that has never faded.
“I’m working on an animal that, unfortunately, may be extinct at some point in time,” he says. “There are more captive tigers in Texas than there are in the wild. I think the issue is of significant importance to understand that we have an ever-growing problem about captive exotics, how care is provided for them, and the human problem we have created. So there has to be a human answer to solving the problem, and the foundation is one of those solutions.”
In addition to the advanced dental techniques he performs, Dyer holds advanced certification in the Israeli self-defense technique of Krav Maga, and is one of only three instructors in the Houston, Texas-area who teach the technique.
“For me, it’s a sense of self-empowerment,” Dyer says. “And from a teaching perspective, I love to teach.”
Dyer is also a certified scuba diver who has contributed underwater photography to the Shark Research Institute. He’s been scuba diving since age 13 when he and his father took a course together.
“It’s the same connection I have with doing exotic dentistry,” he says. “It’s being part of something bigger than yourself.”
And for Dyer, that’s right where he always wanted to be.