Bolouri cherishes warm welcome

Looking back, academic choice has been professional, personal victory
December 11th, 2019

Drs. Ali and Mitra Bolouri

When Dr. Ali Bolouri, professor, in the Department of Comprehensive Dentistry, reached a professional fork in the road, he couldn’t picture himself braving bitter Chicago winters.

A friend invited him to the Windy City to try to entice him to join his prosthodontics department at the University of Illinois in Chicago. While Dr. and Mrs. Robert Kutz drove Bolouri around, he recalls how Mrs. Kutz pointed out a park, telling him, “‘In the winter, the fire department puts water here overnight, it freezes and kids skate all winter long.’ She was so happy about it. I thought, ‘My gosh, it’s so cold.’”

Two months later, an invitation came in from Dr. Bill Filler at Baylor College of Dentistry in Dallas. Warmer climes in Dallas won out over chilly Chicago.

Bolouri first befriended Kutz and Filler while he was a resident and they were prosthodontics faculty members at Emory School of Dentistry in Atlanta. After graduation, Bolouri moved to Memphis, Tennessee, to teach at the University of Tennessee College of Dentistry.

As he enters retirement 43 years later, Bolouri says he made the right choice. He happily raised three daughters here, has a successful practice and is now wrapping up a solid career at Texas A&M College of Dentistry. He officially retires on Dec. 31.

Bolouri recalls his interview here and dryly jokes about how Filler, who fervently wanted him to join the faculty in Dallas, told him not to negotiate his salary.

“‘Don’t talk about money, because the dean doesn’t like that,” he says he was told. “‘They’ll give you a lot of raises later on.’ Still I’m waiting for those big raises.”

Bolouri, director of undergraduate removable prosthodontics, counts his good fortune in memories, friendships and accomplishments, both professionally and personally, that he accumulated over the years.

The importance of his role at the school, both as an educator and health care provider, is probably the most satisfying aspect of his years spent at the dental school, Bolouri says. The most difficult part? Managing patient expectations. He cites misunderstanding and miscommunication more than actual cases being easy or difficult.

“A lot of dentists don’t take removable prosthodontics as seriously,” he says. Unlike other dentistry disciplines, the success of each step in removable prosthodontics restoration is very much related to the correct handling of the previous step. The patient/dentist relationship plays an important role in patients’ satisfaction.

Before he became clinical director in 2014, Bolouri says that when a patient wasn’t satisfied, the treatment ended and payment was refunded. This not only created hard feelings for the student and made for a PR problem, but it also hurt the department budget. He set out to fix the problem by getting more involved in the day-to-day goings-on.

“The mistakes were corrected, the patients’ happiness improved and the return of the money to patients stopped,” he says.

In his annual meeting with an associate dean for finance, Bolouri says she was amazed how income was up even though more dentures had been made and fewer materials were used, a feat that he’s most proud of.

While outcomes are serious business, Bolouri’s sense of humor is never far from the surface. He tells the story of a patient who was eager for her husband’s dentures to be ready. “What’s the hurry?” he asked. Well, apparently she wanted to celebrate his new teeth with a special dinner featuring a frozen roast beef that needed thawing. However, it had already been frozen and thawed before she bought it.

“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, lady. That piece of 75 percent gristle was frozen and then you thaw it. Nobody bought it, it went on sale and you bought it. It’s been in your freezer for some time. That is not even fit for human consumption. Do us all a favor and give it to the most ferocious dog in the neighborhood.’ “I tell the patients—jokingly and seriously—‘If you eat ice cream with dentures for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, we are going to be friends forever. But what I am saying as a joke is not a joke. You see, your other food should have the consistency of ice cream.’”

One of Dr. Bolouri’s most memorable moments at the dental school was when daughter Mitra became a dentist in 2012.

Even though he has started to pack up his office, he still knows exactly where his 2011 Baylor Burr yearbook is, quickly flipping to daughter Mitra’s photo inside (class of 2012). While his own career has been noteworthy, it’s his kids whom he obviously admires—one is a dentist, another is a radiologist, and the third is a pre-med student. His wife, Nooshi, is an anesthesiologist and works mainly at Baylor Scott & White The Heart Hospital in Plano.

He points out that two daughters have moved to colder cities, including his youngest in Chicago, of all places, and another daughter who went to MIT in Boston and eventually landed in Denver. But it’s his first grandchild whom he’s most looking forward to spending time with.

“The plan for me is to spoil him to no end,” he says.

When he breaks from toddler bonding, you might find him in the kitchen baking coffee cakes or cream puffs, he says. But not to worry, he still plans to return for half days once a week next spring to teach implant dentistry in the clinic and have continuing education courses. He also will continue seeing patients at his private practice.

Bolouri says expects he’ll be remembered as a professor who had high expectations, but there’s a reason for that. “I want the dentists who leave here to be dentists that I would want to go to.”

— Kathleen Green Pothier