Dr. Kenneth Judy, Implantology Pioneer, Gives Generously to the Field

By Andrea Kott, MPH


In his 47 years as a private practice general dentist, Dr. Kenneth Judy remembers the one time he promoted himself: It was in the early 1970s, and he had agreed to an interview with Good Housekeeping magazine for a story on dental implants. As soon as the story ran, Dr. Judy’s phone started ringing off the hook. “I got so busy I didn’t know what to do,” the soft-spoken, now-retired dentist recalls. What he did know was that the article had tapped into people’s need for implant education. “When that article came out, I realized how few people knew about implant practice, and how hungry they were to learn more.”

Dr. Judy, 76, who sits on the Board of Advisors of the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine (CDM), travels the world to advance understanding of and education about dental implants. He lectures. He writes. And for the past four and a half decades he has served the International Congress of Oral Implantologists (ICOI), the world’s largest dental implant society, most recently as chief executive officer and chairman. “There is a list of problems that people have when they lose teeth that are actually solvable,” he explains. The solution is often dental implants, and Dr. Judy’s mission is to raise awareness about the practice and technology among dentists, hospitals, and patients in the U.S., and worldwide.

Reserved and distinguished, Dr. Judy pulls papers from a briefcase as carefully as one might prepare surgical instruments on a tray. His wife Dorlaine, who now often accompanies him to meetings and assists with his work for the ICOI, says, “His passion, for as long as I’ve known him, has been implant education: making it widespread and making sure that it is of good quality.”

After undergrad at Georgetown, Dr. Judy earned his DDS from NYU College of Dentistry in 1968 when implantology was a new field and without many practitioners. Dr. Judy was eager to learn about implants during dental school and he met a few experts. “I had wonderful mentors who made my entry into this now recognized specialty very easy.” he says.

That Dr. Judy was doing implant work 50 years ago was somewhat revolutionary, not only because implant education was rare, but also because the American Dental Association (ADA) did not recognize it among its nine specialties, he says. Without ADA recognition, dental schools have been slow to establish implantology departments or dedicate faculty to teaching the discipline, explains Dr. Judy who, in addition to his service on CDM’s board, is clinical professor of implant dentistry at NYU and Temple University in Philadelphia. “Seventy-five percent of implantology is practiced by general dentists,” he says. “But it is critical to have implantology specialists teaching its practice with standard curricula.  If not, then implantology is not being taught the way it should.”

According to Dr. Judy, with rare exception, no U.S. dental schools had a department of implantology 30 years ago. Today, only a few do. In the meantime, some schools have created programs in implantology. At CDM, Dr. Judy had a hand in that.  He played a pivotal role in raising $1 million to support the expansion of the school’s dental implant program, according to Dennis Tarnow, DDS, clinical professor and director of implant education. “When I first came here, there was just a small, two-room implant center,” says Dr. Tarnow, who has directed the program for eight years. “Ken helped raise the money to build a beautiful six-chair center.”

Dr. Tarnow lauds Dr. Judy for mentoring clinicians as well as auxiliary dental professionals who want to become part of the practice of implantology. “Ken was a pioneer in implantology long before it was popular,” he says. “He is one of the few people who has not forgotten technicians, hygienists, and dental assistants. He is a major mentor in organized dentistry.”

Fiercely committed to implant education, Dr. Judy joined the board of ICOI in 1972 and has led the organization since 1979. Before ICOI had the endowment, it does today, he personally financed implant education at Harlem Hospital. “We brought the same caliber of speakers to Harlem Hospital that we gathered at international specialty education meetings,” he says. He also often provided patients with implants, free of charge.

Over the years, implantology has become a multibillion-dollar industry, increasing the need for education and training for dentists as well as nurses, hygienists, x-ray and laboratory technicians, and office personnel. Dr. Judy visits 10 to 15 countries a year, overseeing and/or conducting seminars, training programs, and patient education on behalf of ICOI. The organization also provides curricula, continuing education credits, advanced credentialing, and funds research through its foundation.

When Dr. Judy isn’t traveling, teaching for ICOI, or serving as managing editor of its journal, he is working with the more than 50 organized dentistry, editorial, research, prosthodontic, and implant organizations, and dental schools abroad, some of which have awarded him accolades, fellowships, and honorary doctorate degrees in recognition of his contributions to the field.

“Ken is a tremendous organizer and a great thinker,” Dr. Tarnow says. “He is philanthropic with his money and his time.”

Fellow CDM Board of Advisors and faculty member Thomas Magnani, DDS ’80, assistant clinical professor of dental medicine in operative dentistry, calls Dr. Judy’s contributions to Columbia invaluable, whether it be for building the implant center or supporting the school’s new global initiatives in Guatemala. “Ken Judy has always been a selfless dentist, caring about the ethical expansion of our profession throughout the world.”