Dan O’Neill: Practicing Dentistry on the Frontline

If you graduated from dental school three decades ago, you might be at the point in your career where you’re starting to think about taking things a little easier and even looking ahead to retirement. On the other hand, if you’re Dan O’Neill ’81, you might find yourself in Afghanistan treating the men and women of the U.S. and coalition forces, including Bulgarian, Canadian, British, Spanish and French soldiers, as well as contractors.

After graduation, O’Neill took the Canadian boards and practiced in Canada for a year before turning to his hometown of Butte to start a private practice. He joined the Montana Army National Guard in 2008, after being informed that the Army Dental Corps was at a little more than 50% strength. It was a patriotic and adventurous opportunity for him.

The most inspiring benefit for O’Neill has been meeting and treating U.S. service men and women in all branches — Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, especially those at Camp Phoenix, Afghanistan. He has also volunteered to give a one-hour course on dental emergencies to all the medics and staff at the troop medical clinic (or TMC). His most interesting case, however, was not human. Recently he did an endodontic procedure on the canine… of a canine. The patient, one of the dogs belonging to the Special Forces, was treated successfully in one visit.

“It has been a terrific experience for me in a lot of little ways,” says O’Neill. Not that his service in Afghanistan wasn’t also nerve-wracking at times. “We have not received mortar or rocket attacks here at Camp Phoenix since I’ve been here, [but] some of our sister camps have on occasion.”

O’Neill currently remains in private practice and has a locum tenens dentist, retired from the Navy, covering the practice during his deployment. Future plans include attending the dental school’s annual Alumni Meeting and 30-year Class Reunion in March 2011 in San Francisco. No doubt he will have more interesting tales to tell!