Four “firsts” for University of Saskatchewan alumnus Dr. Dennis Lanigan

Dennis Lanigan

Looking back, it’s been 41 years of “firsts” for Dr. Dennis Lanigan since he graduated with a D.M.D. from the U. of S. College of Dentistry in 1972.

First #1: In 1972, Dennis Lanigan was a member of the College of Dentistry’s first graduating class. One of ten dental students admitted into the College in 1968, Lanigan was granted his D.M.D. with Great Distinction.

That honour was one among six the talented “new” dentist received at graduation. The other five included a President’s Gold Medal, a Faculty Gold Medal in Dentistry, a Canadian Academy of Periodontology Award, a Canadian Society of Oral Surgeons Award, and a W. B. Saunders Company Prize.

In addition, Lanigan received six scholarships directed toward his plans for further study – meaningful private support intended for the best and the brightest.

A perfectionist by nature, Lanigan chose the field of dentistry because, in his own words, “I could master all I needed to know in a discipline with a narrower scope than medicine.”

However, that scope broadened almost immediately. Lanigan continues: “I had planned to become a general dentist, but when I saw photographs of the results of orthognathic surgery, I decided that that was an area of dentistry I particularly wished to study.” So study it he did, although the ambitious dentist admits that oral and maxillofacial surgery was the “last discipline” he would have considered in the beginning.

First #2: In 1977, Lanigan graduated with an M.D. from the U. of S. – the first person in the province to earn both a dental degree and a medical degree at the university.

Lanigan’s rationale for pursuing a medical degree emerged while he was working at the University Hospital as a dental resident during 1972-73: “I could see that dentists got very little respect from the medical community as a whole. I quickly decided that I was not going to do a four-year residency program in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (OMFS) and then not be able to put into practice what I learned.” He decided that an M.D. degree would bring validation from the medical community for his work in the dental specialty he wanted to pursue.

Reflecting on his later specialization training in Seattle, in comparing himself with fellow residents who held dual (dentistry and medicine) degrees from prestigious universities including Harvard and the University of Washington, Lanigan says that “I never felt that my education at the U. of S. put me at any disadvantage; my background clearly was every bit as strong as theirs.”

According to U. of S. College of Dentistry’s Associate Dean Ken Sutherland, “His was a landmark accomplishment for a student coming out of a program not yet eight years old, and gave the U. of S. Dentistry program instant credibility. Dennis’s achievements demonstrated the quality of our program through the quality of our graduates.”

And others took notice as well: inspired by Lanigan’s intellect and clear sense of direction, fellow dentist Michael Lypka followed in his footsteps and also graduated with dual degrees from the U. of S.

First #3: In 1981, Lanigan joined the U. of S. College of Dentistry faculty as an Associate Professor – the first faculty member to hold these two health sciences degrees.

Prior to Lanigan’s appointment as Associate Professor (and later appointments as head of three College departments), he taught Oral Diagnosis at the College while also beginning his medical studies at the University of Saskatchewan.

Sutherland recalls fellow Dentistry faculty calling him “Doctor Doctor Doctor Lanigan. He was thorough and meticulous . . . insisted on and received the highest levels of oral surgery work from his students.”

Lanigan’s talents and contributions were recognized by the College of Dentistry. During his time on faculty, he received two Outstanding Professor awards and impressed and influenced students, staff, and other faculty by his exemplary level of participation in all College activities.

First #4: Lanigan is the first person born in Saskatchewan to practice the full scope of oral and maxillofacial surgery in the province. In 1981 he began part-time private practice in Saskatoon at 601 C. N. Towers and moved there full-time in 2003. He continues to practice five days a week.

In retrospect, Lanigan says that “The highlight of my career is that I have been able to have orthognathic surgery as a major part of my practice for over 30 years. There are few oral and maxillofacial surgeons in North America who have been fortunate enough to have operated on the number of cases I have.”

That number is well over a thousand – an accomplishment he shares with only a few other maxillofacial surgeons in North America. And as the number continues to grow, his enthusiasm remains strong: “Even today I still find these cases challenging and interesting.”  

All firsts aside, to the present Dr. Lanigan remains part of the fabric of the College. Between 2003 and 2008, he delivered lectures to dental students three times a year. On a volunteer basis, he currently assists Dr. Virdi in teaching the practical aspects of local anesthesia.

In addition to Lanigan’s contributions to the profession as an instructor and practicing oral surgeon, the busy dentist has also presented at more than 70 conferences in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Japan. As well he has published 67 contributions to the field of orthognathic surgery in the form of papers, abstracts, books, and book chapters. Consequently, he frequently is cited in scientific literature. He is also a reviewer in the field of orthognathic surgery for both the Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery and the International Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery.

But his contribution does not stop inside the doors of academic institutions and dental clinics. Lanigan is also a member of the Cleft Palate Team at Royal University Hospital, and an active staff member at all three Saskatoon hospitals.

In recognition of his unparalleled contribution to the profession, Lanigan received the Distinguished Service Award at the 2013 Canadian Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons’ (CAOMS) Annual Convention in Chicago on May 25.

Somehow, Dennis Lanigan also makes time to contribute to the better good through his non-professional passion as well. Possessing one of the best art collections of its kind in North America (British art from the second half of the 19th century), Lanigan believes that his collection enables him “to contribute to society as a whole.” That contribution has taken the forms of donating financially in support of the arts, loaning his collection to exhibitions, and donating works of art to public collections (particularly the National Gallery of Canada).

Sutherland describes his colleague Lanigan as “a genuinely kind and considerate human being, serving his patients and the profession in an exemplary manner.” Although Lanigan hasn’t been a full-time faculty member in the College of Dentistry since 2003, Sutherland says he remains “an integral part of who we were and who we are.”

Dennis Lanigan and his wife of 27 years, Sharon, have resided since 1980 in the first house they purchased. Their only son, Liam, is a bioarcheologist with a special interest in paleopathology and works based out of the UK. Liam received his undergraduate degree at the University of Saskatchewan and his Master’s degree at University College London.

By Debora Senger
Alumni and Stewardship Officer
College of Dentistry