Achievement Award: Dr. Alfred "Duke" Heller

Dr. Alfred “Duke” Heller

Dr. Alfred “Duke” Heller is this year’s Achievement Award Winner.

Dr. Alfred “Duke” Heller has made significant contributions in the area of implants, both in pioneering discoveries and training dentists. In recognition of his efforts, he will receive the Ohio Dental Association Achievement Award on Friday, Sept. 18, at the Callahan Celebration of Excellence, held in conjunction with the 149th ODA Annual Session.

“Dr. Duke Heller has achieved much with the education of implant dentistry; nationally and internationally, mentoring his colleagues and volunteering with the Refuge Ministry (a program to help addicts) – and we feel his distinguished career and commitment to helping others is worthy of recognition,” wrote Dr. Tim March, chair of the Columbus Dental Society Honors and Awards Committee.

Heller said he’s very honored to receive the award.

“It’s always fun to serve. When you serve others you make yourself feel good,” he said. “If you help enough other people get what they want out of life, you will get what you want out of life. I’ve tried to live my life that way, give and give, and you get it back.”

Heller said he had always wanted to be a prosthodontist, and during his senior year of dental school he spent his time doing crown and bridge work. After he graduated from dental school at The Ohio State University in 1962, he entered military service and was chief of the crown/bridge department at Fort Rucker.

While in the military, Dr. L.D. Pankey became a mentor and friend to Heller, and suggested he limit his practice to full mouth rehabilitation after leaving the Army in 1965. Heller practiced general dentistry from 1965-72 and started placing implants in 1969.

After finding that some implants weren’t successful, Heller decided he wanted to go back to school and do research. He ended up entering a master’s program in endodontics at OSU from 1972-74 to do research on dental implants and bone grafting materials.

“From this research came Tricalcium Posphate, a bone grafting material – and this and many other implant designs and materials used today were a result of his master’s studies and research at OSU. Not only are his pioneering discoveries used clinically, they continue to be taught in implant dentistry education,” March wrote.

From there, Heller started an implant program at OSU, and in 1980 he founded the Midwest Implant Institute just north of Columbus to teach dental implantology. The institute gives dentists hands-on surgical experience placing dental implants, implant prosthetics, bone grafting and IV sedation. Heller’s son graduated from dental school and joined him at the institute in 1990 and together they’ve trained about 1,000 dentists.

Heller has also started eight dental implant programs at different dental schools.

Heller said his favorite part about the work he does is helping general dentists learn new skills.

“I think it’s seeing general dentists become confident in placing dental implants, to know they’re not that complicated, and that they can do it and serve their own patients,” he said.

After practicing for more than 50 years, Heller’s son has now taken over responsibilities at the Institute and Heller continues to speak and lecture nationally and internationally.

Heller is a past president of the Board of Oral Implantology, is an Honorary Fellow of the American Academy of Implant Dentistry, is a Fellow of the International College of Dentists, and has received several awards and recognitions for his achievements including the AAID Lifetime Achievement Award.

Heller also has published many articles in scientific journals and dental publications and has given many presentations on implant dentistry.

He also started “Dentists Helping Dentists” in 2000, a peer-to-peer professional growth group where dentists can discuss issues they are facing in their practice and home lives.

Heller has been a member of organized dentistry for over 50 years and has served on the Columbus Dental Society Board of Directors.

Heller said one of the most important aspects of organized dentistry is that it facilitates sharing ideas.

“Usually it’s organized dentistry that brings in speakers that may be doing things a little differently, and then you’re able to incorporate multiple ideas on the same subject, and you can pick the option that will best serve your patients,” he said.

Outside of dentistry, Heller volunteers with The Refuge Ministry in Grove City, where he helps men 18 years and older who have addiction problems. He teaches life skills to them two to three days a week and helps them find jobs.

He also has written religious books teaching people how to share their faith and speaks to men’s groups and presents sermons in churches one or two Sunday’s per month. He also enjoys photography and following OSU football and basketball.

He and his wife, Wanda, have been married for 57 years. They have three children and nine grandchildren.

The Achievement Award is given to someone with a personal and professional commitment to the dental profession and the public’s oral health, and who is an ambassador for the dental profession with solid respect for the profession.