The Road Not Taken

Posted on: Wednesday, 04/15/2020

Distinguished clinical professor of periodontics, Dr. Henry Takei, reflects on the people and moments that helped him along the way

DISTINGUISHED CLINICAL PROFESSOR OF PERIODONTICS, Dr. Henry Takei, believes that his career and professional success were because he was at the right place at the right time and had the good fortune to have met outstanding mentors. 

Dr. Takei was appointed to teach periodontics at the then-newly established UCLA School of Dentistry in 1967. Over the last five decades, Dr. Takei has built a storied career and reputation in the dental specialty of periodontics and has taught over 650 courses and lectures around the world. “I feel very fortunate for my career. It’s an honor to practice and teach periodontics, my passion,” he said.

Dr. Takei spent his younger years in Southern California in the 1940s, which was a difficult time for Japanese Americans. Despite the obstacles he faced, he matriculated at University of Southern California (USC) where he completed his undergraduate studies. His quest to enter dentistry came about because an influential family member was a practicing dentist and Dr. Takei decided to follow in his footsteps. After going through a rigorous application process, he was invited to enroll at Marquette University School of Dentistry. He accepted the invitation and boarded a plane to Wisconsin to start a new professional chapter.

He not only completed his DDS and Master’s degrees at Marquette University, but Dr. Takei also completed a postgraduate certificate in periodontics. “My choice to go to Marquette was an example of ‘The Road Not Taken’, by Robert Frost,” he said. “I was one of only two Japanese Americans in the entire dental school. Making the decision to live in a part of the country that I knew little about was my fork in the road. It changed the trajectory of my life.”

Dr. Takei had never intended to specialize when he started dental school. His wife, June, who completed USC’s Dental Hygiene program, encouraged him to pursue periodontics because she understood that periodontics has a strong foundation in science – a passion of her husband.

Following his training at Marquette, Dr. Takei and June moved back to Los Angeles. He had always been interested in teaching, so when he saw an open position for a periodontics professor at the UCLA School of Dentistry, he took advantage of the opportunity to teach at the brand new dental school.

Shortly into Dr. Takei's appointment, UCLA hired Dr. Fermin Carranza, a world-renowned periodontist. Dr. Carranza would become Dr. Takei’s most important mentor, and the two, along with other faculty, would go onto start the UCLA postgraduate periodontics training program. The program is now one of the most respected postgraduate periodontics programs in the country. Dr. Carranza also invited 

Dr. Takei to be a co-editor on his textbook Carranza’s Clinical Periodontology, a leading periodontics textbook.

In addition to his academic and scholarly pursuits, Dr. Takei developed a private practice and after 43 years of caring for his patients, retired in 2010. “I’ve always believed that in order to be the best clinical teacher I can be; I must also be a practicing clinician.”  

Dr. Takei began traveling to Japan in the 1970s and taught at an institute to promote periodontal training in the country – his guidance was welcomed. These international collaborations led him to meet Dr. Susumu Miyata, a Japanese educational entrepreneur, philanthropist, and owner of Meikai and Asahi Universities. The friendship eventually led to Dr. Miyata sponsoring a cultural exchange program between UCLA and his schools, with Dr. Takei being a leading figure in the alliance. 

In 2006, Dr. Miyata made a million-dollar gift to endow the program, which has benefited hundreds of UCLA student dentists and faculty. 

This past year, Dr. Takei was honored with The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon by the Japanese government for his numerous and valuable contributions to periodontal education in their country. This recent award and another one in 2006, when he received the Master Clinician Award from the American Academy of Periodontology, mark two of his most significant achievements.

“Looking back at everything I’ve accomplished, I am grateful to my colleagues and students at UCLA who inspire me to do my best and continue to be a lifelong learner.”