Saul Burk, DDS ’72


Saul Burk, DDS ’72As Dr. Saul Burk, UMSOD Class of 1972, explains it, dentistry literally saved his father’s life.

“My father was from Bialystok in Poland, and he went through the Jewish underground to Palestine [what is now Israel]. He had been a dental lab technician before he left Poland but when he went to Palestine he joined the Jewish underground as a freedom fighter,” Dr. Burk explained. “When he came over to the United States, they drafted him and because of his experience in the Jewish underground they put him in infantry, and he was supposed to go to Normandy Beach.”

As luck would have it, Dr. Burk’s father was in the dental clinic for a checkup when the commanding officer came in complaining of a “dental plate” that did not fit. Dr. Burk’s father made a new plate and when the commanding officer learned of his dental background, put him in the dental lab instead of going to Normandy with the infantry.

“No one came back from that division so yes, dentistry saved my father’s life,” Dr. Burk said.

Being the oldest son, Dr. Burk’s father always hoped he would pursue a career in dentistry and the interest was there even from a young age.

“When I was at Calvin Coolidge High School in Washington, DC, they had a science fair every year and one year I decided to create a mold of my teeth with red clay and candles and it won first place in the medicine category,” Dr. Burk said. “The next year I made an articulator with plaster, red clay, candles, and red coated electrical wire and it not only one first place again at my school, but it went to the city science fair in DC where it was given an honorable mention because at that time dentistry was part of the medical category and they wanted to give first place to a project in medicine.”

That honorable mention caught the attention of the Smithsonian Institute, which was looking for science fair projects to display in their museum. That was how, in 1964, Dr. Burk’s high school science fair project ended up in one of the most prestigious museums in the world and he decided he would pursue a career in dentistry.

During his junior year of college, Dr. Burk applied early admission to UMSOD because it was not only his state school, but also considered to be an elite dental school. After graduating in 1972, he held a rotating internship at McGill University, spent a year in a private practice, and then applied for the orthodontics program at Georgetown University. After graduation, Dr. Burk practiced orthodontics in Montgomery County, MD for over 40 years and taught part-time at Georgetown University School of Dentistry in the Orthodontic Department for 11 years.

“When I sold my practice in 2020, I realized that retirement was not for me,” Dr. Burk said. “I love to teach and thought a return to UMSOD would be good, so in 2021 I joined the Dean’s Faculty.”

“It’s important for dentists to be knowledgeable, experienced clinicians who make it their goal to provide optimal treatment,” Dr. Burk added.  “Having started dental school after three years of college, I was not prepared for the rigors of four years of dental school.  In my first year, I was at the bottom of my class and basically spent the next three years working my way up.  Eventually, I won the International College of Dentists award as the most advanced student in my graduating class.  I tell this story to dental students who want to go into a specialty but think they won’t get in, and tell them, “Never say never, and never give up.”

In addition to his legacy at the dental school as both a student and faculty member, Dr. Burk has left a lasting legacy at UMSOD to provide financial support for orthodontic residents through the Wanda Flinn Memorial Scholarship Fund.

“Unfortunately, my late partner in the private practice, passed away 18 months ago,” he said. “When she passed away, I made a very sizeable donation to the dental school, so now the Wanda Flinn Memorial Scholarship Fund every year grants a scholarship to an orthodontic resident. I feel like this could be really special because it’s only for an orthodontic resident and there’s only one orthodontics program in the state of Maryland. So, if orthodontists in the state of Maryland wanted to look for something to support that is a part of their state’s program, this scholarship fund is it.”