Shortly after opening the Benhuri Center for Laser and Implant Dentistry in New York City, Marc Benhuri ’69 was invited to treat the Shah of Iran after he’d lost some teeth in a skiing accident. “When the Shah found out I was born in Iran, he chose me as his dentist,” Benhuri says.
He and the Shah became friends, and the Shah introduced Benhuri to King Hussein of Jordan, Anwar Sadat of Egypt and other royal family members throughout the Middle East, many of whom became his patients. Other famous patients include President George H.W. Bush, then head of the CIA, and Russian leader Boris Yeltsin.
The path to building his practice – billed as “New York’s most sought after dental facility visited by celebrities, CEOs and foreign dignitaries from around the world” – was a circuitous one.
After immigrating to the United States from Iran in 1964, Benhuri wanted to study mechanical engineering. One problem: he came from a family of doctors and dentists stretching back 10 generations, and his family was not happy with his choice.
Nonetheless, Benhuri earned his degree in mechanical engineering from UNH and landed a job with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, working on codes and standards for nuclear power plants. On the side he opened a small factory making spare auto parts in Queens, N.Y.
“I was uneasy,” Benhuri says. “I was making good money, but I went into engineering because I was rebelling against my parents. My heart and soul were in medicine.”
In 1970, Benhuri enrolled in the dentistry program at the University of Pittsburgh, the first engineer to be accepted into that program. Four months later, the head of oral surgery asked him to look at the new field of dental implants from an engineering perspective.
“Dental implants were new, and they were only working about half the time,” Benhuri says. “I found out the design was wrong, and I created new designs. The success rate went from 50 percent to 90 percent.”
Benhuri decided to pursue dual degrees in surgery and prosthodontics so he could address a patient’s needs from start to finish. He also conducted further research into bone implant dentistry.
After graduation, he started his own practice and founded the Department of Dental Implants at Columbia University. He also was still running his auto parts store and flying every week from New York to Pittsburgh to collaborate with researchers at the University of Pittsburgh. In his spare time, he created the first chain of freestanding medical centers in malls,
National MedPlex Corp., and a Russian cellular telecommunications company, Rusetel.
How did he find the time to pursue so many disparate enterprises? “My body needs only five hours of sleep a night,” he said. “I’m very efficient, and I have a great team. My business office is run like a Swiss clock.”
He credits UNH with giving him a solid start in business. “I was a foreign student with language difficulties, and UNH had a smaller campus where you could really get close to your professors,” says Benhuri, who recently became a member of the University’s Board of Governors. “UNH gave me a good foundation.”
Benhuri also opened five auto parts factories in Iran at the request of the Shah. When the Ayatollah Khomeini took over in 1979, the five factories were burned, sending Benhuri into a financial crisis. He was forced to sell his New York factories to repay loans for the Iranian factories, and he later sold the company.
Benhuri recently wrote and published Price for Freedom, a book about the Iranian Revolution and the world Islamist movement. In it he details his successful effort to bring his father, who was condemned to death for being an industrialist, and other family members out of Iran.
Benhuri is proud of the work he’s done to bring effective dental implant surgery to people around the globe, from Middle Eastern kings to average Joes. He has lectured all over the world for the past 30 years, and he always points out that dental implants are not just about restoring function but also restoring natural beauty.