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ADA conference focuses on vulnerable adults

Washington—She smiled blissfully, the lady in the slide offered by Dr. Douglas B. Berkey at the ADA National Consensus Conference on the Oral Health of Vulnerable Older Adults and Persons with Disabilities.

Smiles send messages, and this one might have been lost in the dialogue of demographics, disease, policy and access were it not for its exuberant expression of joy and occasion.

Image: Dr. Raymond Gist, Mary Wakefield, and Dr. Paul Glassman
Stakeholders: From left, Dr. Raymond Gist, ADA president; Mary Wakefield, HRSA administrator; and Dr. Paul Glassman, conference moderator; pause for a photo Nov. 18. Photo by Bill Geiger

Dr. Berkey, dental educator and “champion for geriatric dentistry,” spoke to “the importance of a smile” in terms of social engagement, emotional status and mental health. The 80-something lady of the slide smiled with dentures she received the morning of the photograph for her marriage that afternoon.

“The ADA is eager to listen and learn,” said Dr. Raymond Gist, president of the Association, which convened the Nov. 18-19 conference in the nation’s capital that engaged 150 oral health advocates. The conference was made possible through a grant from the ADA Foundation and GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare.

“Successfully expanding access to care for our most vulnerable citizens will require a broad, collaborative effort, embracing the concerns of advocacy organizations, health professions, corporate sectors, foundations, other nonprofits and the public sector,” said Dr. Gist, who welcomed the conferees and participated in their roundtable discussions toward developing a strategic plan and mechanism for action.

“The ADA is committed to fostering a culture of engagement, and to reaching out to the broadest array of communities. We are reaching out to you, stakeholders with diverse values and beliefs, because this is a learning experience for all of us. To advocate effectively, we need to design and recommend policies that are most likely to succeed, and achieve intended outcomes.

“Through this commitment to dialogue and engagement, the American Dental Association will not only come to understand more about others, but perhaps more importantly, become more understandable to others.”

Mary Wakefield, Ph.D., keynote speaker and administrator of the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, took note of the call for collaboration and told the oral health advocates, “We do it best in times of economic restraint when we do it together. We are pleased to help you build this coalition.

“We are excited about the prospect of a national coalition,” she said. “We get it.”

Dental and other health professionals joined academic, geriatric, government, foundation and other advocates at the ADA conference in describing access problems for older adults and persons with disabilities and offering recommendations.

“It’s important to hear differences of opinion, and to value them,” said Dr. Gist. “To speak with a loud, clear voice, we need to find new ways to lift the oral health needs of the elderly and disabled populations out of the shadows and insist that they be given the priorities that they deserve.”

Image: A group of 150 dental and other health professionals join academic, geriatric, government, foundation and other advocates at the conference
Coalition building: A group of 150 dental and other health professionals join academic, geriatric, government, foundation and other advocates at the conference. Photo by Bill Geiger