Peter E. Dawson, DDS: The Passing of a Dental Icon

Michael W. Davis, DDS


Dr. Peter E. Dawson—acclaimed educator, innovator, author, and founder of the Dawson Academy—passed away on July 27, 2019, at age 89. Dawson was a mentor to many thousands of dentists and has left a positive, indelible mark on the dental profession. He is most known for concepts related to restorative dentistry, occlusion, and problem solving with temporal mandibular disorders and is among Dentistry Today’s Leaders in Continuing Education.

“Pete Dawson’s clinical knowledge of occlusion and all aspects of restorative dentistry has directly or indirectly touched every dentist on the planet. But for the dentists that really studied and spent time with him, it was his concepts of family, faith, and life balance that changed our lives,” said Dr. John Cranham, clinical director of the Dawson Academy.

“He had the ability to inspire us to understand and spend time on the things that matter most, and to do so before we realized how important they were. For a lot of us, he saved our lives. The concepts of clinical excellence, life balance, and faith and family will continue to remain the bedrock core principles taught at the Dawson Academy,” said Cranham.

Dr. Peter Dawson has shaped the practices and lives of tens of thousands of dentists over the last 60 years. He taught us a way to treat our patients with the utmost respect and provide for them the superior level of care that they deserve.  He taught us predictable ways to completely diagnose and plan for their long-term stability and health, and he made us realize that with proper planning, anything can be accomplished,” said Dr. Rajeev Upadya, senior faculty member at the Dawson Academy.

“My family and I will always be indebted to Pete for not only what he taught me about my profession, but what he taught me about life as a whole. He made me realize that predictability in the office leads to satisfaction in life, and that a better way to practice dentistry leads to a better way to lead our lives. I will always look back fondly of my trips to Saint Petersburg, Florida, to see, learn from, and spend time with our St. Pete. He will be missed daily, but his legacy lives on in the torchbearers he has groomed,” said Upadya.

Dawson was never shy about entering heated debate and controversy, especially over the topic of occlusion. The recent “Occlusion Wars” between proponents of centric relation (CR) versus neuromuscular dentistry was only a modern example.

An earlier debate focused on the late Dr. L.D. Pankey’s concept of “long centric occlusion” versus Dawson’s pinpoint repeatability CR and the ability to generate tripod posterior cuspal contacts. Dawson and Pankey later became trusted lifelong friends and colleagues. This spoke well of both men, as the professional arguments were initially quite pointed and passionate.

Dawson seemed to draw life lessons and the importance of balance from Pankey. Although most of Dawson’s writings centered upon clinical topics, his last book, an autobiography, may have been most meaningful. In A Better Way: The Surprising Path to a Complete Life, Dawson offers inspiration for overcoming challenges and provides examples in the struggle to balance work, family, faith, and play.

The Dawson Academy has set up memorials and invites members of the public and profession to share their memories on its homepage and on its Facebook page.

Dr. Davis practices general dentistry in Santa Fe, NM. He assists as an expert witness in dental fraud and malpractice legal cases. He currently chairs the Santa Fe District Dental Society Peer-Review Committee and serves as a state dental association member to its house of delegates. He extensively writes and lectures on related matters. He may be reached at or

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