The name shouldn't ring a bell.
That's because he is best known through the global dental community, as well as to his patients, as, simply, "T. Bob."
"They can call me anything, as long as they call me for breakfast, lunch and supper," Dr. Davis joked.
The immediate past president of the Academy of Dentistry International , Dr. Davis has brought more than 1,500 dental students, and about 500 dentists, to Mexico and Central America over the past 36 years on dental humanitarian missions. Every spring break, Dr. Davis leads dental students from Texas A&M University College of Dentistry  and the University of Texas School of Dentistry  at Houston to a place in the world where access to care is nonexistent and the need is great.
"I was honored to be able to tell very active ADA member Dr. T. Bob Davis that he will be awarded the ADA Humanitarian Award at ADA 2018 - America's Dental Meeting in Honolulu," said ADA President Joseph P. Crowley. "Dr. Davis, who is extremely well-known throughout the organization for his volunteerism, has been leading dental mission trips to Mexico, Nicaragua and Guatemala since 1977. He has inspired many of those students to initiate their own humanitarian efforts, both internationally and in their own communities. On top of that, Dr. Davis has devoted so much time to his beloved Dallas through his own humanitarian efforts. He truly embodies humanitarian ideals and attributes by demonstrating significant leadership and outstanding volunteer accomplishments that bring honor to the profession. Dr. Davis is selfless and his legacy of paying it forward will live on in future generations."
Upon receiving the phone call from Dr. Crowley in November, Dr. Davis, an accomplished pianist, thought the ADA president was calling to commend him for his musicianship at a recent meeting the two had attended.
To Dr. Davis' surprise, Dr. Crowley informed him that the Board of Trustees had chosen him as the recipient of the 2018 Humanitarian Award. Dr. Davis said he teared up and cried when he heard the news.
"I don't deserve it," Dr. Davis told the ADA News. "Those who deserve it are all the people who have been with me all over the years."
One of those dentists is Dr. Chad Allen, a Texas dentist who first met Dr. Davis on one of his dental mission trips to Mexico as a freshman in dental school. "If every dental student followed Dr. Davis' example, there would be no problem with access to care," Dr. Allen said in a letter supporting Dr. Davis' nomination for the award.
Dr. Allen described what he called the "T. Bob Effect": inspiring hundreds of dentists to continue serving the under-served all over the world having first experienced the life-changing volunteerism that Dr. Davis exposed them to.
Dr. David Toney, a Texas dentist, has traveled on nearly 20 dental missions over the world, most of them with Dr. Davis. "It is a rare privilege to personally know someone who has affected the trajectory of hundreds of lives towards passionate humanitarian kindness and service," Dr. Toney said in a nomination letter. "Dr. Davis has inspired hundreds of dental students to become dental missionaries for their entire careers. He is one of the rare people who has changed our world for good and has a legacy of hundreds of dentists and hygienists who will always be willing to serve the neediest."
Texas pediatric dentist Dr. Jon McClure has accompanied Dr. Davis on his mission trips eight times, including two pre-mission trips to help organize and prepare the mission locations. "Some of these locations have been so remote that you have to travel out way past where public roads exist and then going farther and farther until you run out of road and have to pile in a boat to reach fishing villages out on islands where people live without electricity," he said in a letter supporting Dr. Davis' nomination for the award. "He would do everything he could each visit to try to help as many people as possible. If there did not seem to be a way, he would not stop until he found a way."
A native of Troy, Alabama, with degrees from Samford University and the University of Alabama School of Dentistry , Dr. Davis had been practicing for almost 10 years before he went on his first overseas humanitarian trip in 1977. He had been talking about taking the plunge for years, but for one reason or another, he had never done it. It was Dr. Davis' wife, Janis, who signed him up for his first one, unbeknownst to him. "Later that evening, she told me, 'Put up or shut up,'" Dr. Davis said with a laugh.
Once he went, he caught the bug, realizing how much good he could do. One of his mottos is, "Do what you can, while you still can." Five years after his first overseas trip, he began bringing students from the local dental schools with him.
After more than three decades of trips to Matamoros, Mexico, escalating violence in that border town led Dr. Davis to search for another volunteer location where he and the students would be relatively safe. He eventually ended up in San Raymundo, Guatemala. March 2018 will mark his seventh annual trip to San Raymundo. In that time, he has established a dental home for the residents, treating the neediest in the area, some who have never seen a dentist.
Dr. Davis considered his sixth trip to San Raymundo, in March 2017, to be the most successful yet. He was accompanied by 16 dentists and 50 dental students — 21 from Texas A&M University College of Dentistry and 29 from The University of Texas School of Dentistry at Houston. His team treated 820 people, delivering more than $329,000 worth of dental care.
John Ratliff, a third-year dental student at Texas A&M, has served with Dr. Davis in Guatemala for the past two years. "(I learned I) can make a difference in changing people's lives," he said. "You see everything you see in school, in practice."
Dr. Davis' trips have become annual rites of passage among many Texas A&M and UT-Houston dental students, who gravitate toward the trips in part because of Dr. Davis' longtime ties to the Christian Dental Society as well as the Christian Medical and Dental Association. "The trips are a testament to people buying into T. Bob's message," Mr. Ratliff said. "He says, 'Take a leap of faith and be of service to others.'"
Mr. Ratliff said he was initially skeptical. "I said, 'San Raymundo, where is that?' I was a little nervous, but Dr. Davis is so organized and the dentists are so inspirational with their commitment to impacting the youth."
Dr. Davis' service to the underserved has not been limited to Guatemala and Mexico. Dr. Davis, who has lived in Dallas since 1969, has served with distinction locally and nationally in organizations such as the Academy of General Dentistry, the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and the Southern Baptist Convention. He has volunteered years of service to his church as deacon, youth worker and pianist while devoting his dental expertise to children's homes and schools in his home state of Texas. He was the 2014 recipient of Dentist of the Year, given out by the Texas Academy of General Dentistry .
The ADA Humanitarian Award recognizes dentist members who have distinguished themselves by giving at least 10 years to improving the oral health of under-served populations in the United States and abroad. The award includes $10,000 given to the dental charity/project of the recipient's choice. The deadline for nominations is September 15 of each year.
Dr. Davis' peers echo the ADA's praise. "He is selfless and by example teaches those with him to give where their help is needed," said Dr. Richard M. Smith, a Texas dentist and treasurer of the International College of Dentists . "This example has led many to become more involved with this needed work. This involvement has multiplied the impact of his mission work by expanding the numbers of those who serve others."
To explore international oral health volunteer opportunities, go to the ADA Foundation's International Dental Volunteer Organizations website: internationalvolunteer.ADA.org .
About the ADA
The not-for-profit ADA is the nation's largest dental association, representing 161,000 dentist members. The premier source of oral health information, the ADA has advocated for the public's health and promoted the art and science of dentistry since 1859. The ADA's state-of-the-art research facilities develop and test dental products and materials that have advanced the practice of dentistry and made the patient experience more positive. The ADA Seal of Acceptance long has been a valuable and respected guide to consumer dental care products. The monthly The Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) is the ADA's flagship publication and the best-read scientific journal in dentistry. For more information about the ADA, visit ADA.org . For more information on oral health, including prevention, care and treatment of dental disease, visit the ADA's consumer website MouthHealthy.org