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Summit paints 'beautiful portrait' of dentistry

Image: ADA President William Calnon, center, President Lilia Larin, left, and NDA President Roy Irons, right, at the Multi-Cultural Oral Health Summit.
A very special night: ADA President William Calnon addresses the audience at the Opening Ceremonies of the Multi-Cultural Oral Health Summit. Dr. Calnon was one of several dental dignitaries to provide remarks, including HDA President Lilia Larin, left, and NDA President Roy Irons, right. See more photos from the summit below.

Boca Raton, Fla.—They had been together at the resort and conference center all day; learning from the continuing education sessions they attended and from each other.

At the Opening Ceremonies of the Multi-Cultural Oral Health Summit, they came together even more. They weren't just representing their individual dental associations or even their respective cultures. They all knew they were representing dentistry.

"It's a very special night. But when I look out at the audience, I don't see dentists. I don't see students. And I don't see other dental professionals all representing various dental organizations. No, rather what I see is an absolutely beautiful portrait of the true family of dentistry in this country,” said Dr. William Calnon, president of the American Dental Association, who attended the summit and was one of several dental dignitaries invited to deliver remarks at its Opening Ceremonies. "I am proud to call you all my colleagues.”

July 20–24 marked the first joint annual session between the Hispanic Dental Association, National Dental Association and Society of American Indian Dentists. It was estimated that more than 1,100 dentists, hygienists, assistants, faculty and administrators, public sector leaders, other associations, technical exhibitors and corporations from across the country attended the summit, held at the Boca Raton Resort & Club. Because of the historic nature of the summit, the ADA helped support the event, along with a number of other sponsors.

"Three of the nation's premier dental organizations joining forces and cultures to host our very first historic meeting—what a monumental event," said Dr. Lilia Larin, president of the Hispanic Dental Association. "The battle for oral health may not be easily won but with a joint approach our goals may soon see a brighter future.”

The Opening Ceremonies was attended by a number of notables within the dental profession, from leaders within each association to past presidents to high-ranking dental school officials. It was a powerful showing from leaders in dentistry.

The Opening Ceremonies was a chance for some of the groups to showcase their traditions and symbols. It began with a prayer, led by Dr. George Blue Spruce, SAID founder, who at 81 years old was considered the elder of the conference.

Spoken in his tribe's native language, Dr. Blue Spruce prayed that the friendships made at the conference would continue after the weekend.

"Our collaborations with the other organizations here have been very educational," said Dr. Ruth W. Bol, SAID president, and a graduate of the ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership. "We are excited to broaden our spectrum of diversity to this group."

The ethereal mood from the opening prayer was taken up a notch when members of the HDA entered the ballroom carrying large, sweeping flags from Latin America. As Ricky Martin's song "The Cup of Life" boomed from the speakers, HDA leadership took command of the room one by one with big smiles on their faces.

"I've heard the prayers of the American Indians. I've seen the colorful flags. All I can say is God bless America," Dr. Roy Irons, NDA president, said.

At the heart of the summit was bringing three diverse groups together to learn from one another. Attendees also had the opportunity to attend a number of CE courses on social and clinical issues.

Dr. Teresa Dolan, professor and dean at the University of Florida College of Dentistry, co-led a session titled Treating Aging America. She shared statistics on how fast the country's elderly population will grow in the next 15–20 years and emphasized how important it is for dentists to know how to treat older patients.

"We're going to need these services someday, and we want to be treated by people who understand the aging process," Dr. Dolan said.

Dr. Dolan was joined by Dr. Gregory Folse, who owns a mobile nursing home practice in Louisiana, and treats patients at 24 nursing facilities. He shared stories from the front line of the nursing home and talked about how rewarding it is to help elderly patients take charge of their oral health.

"Treating aging or special needs patients is a gift from God," Dr. Folse said.

While dentists in the Treating Aging America session focused on the care of the elderly, emphasis was also placed on those at the opposite end of the age spectrum: new dentists. A new dentist panel allowed dental students to hear from young dentists about what it's like the first few years after graduation and beginning to practice.

The summit was also an opportunity for dental school faculty and administrators to learn ways to bring their diverse students together. Dr. Beverly Crawford, director of diversity affairs at the University of Pennsylvania's Penn Dental Medicine school, said she's noticed a number of different cultural groups at the university working independently of one another, and she wants to find a way for them to realize they can accomplish more by working together.

"This summit, I hope, will be the catalyst to show the students how much they could accomplish if they work together," said Dr. Crawford, who will attend the ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership this fall.  "We still celebrate their uniqueness and they share with us their unique culture perspectives but I see that they get a lot more work done as far as community service if they work and support each other. This is historic. I think we're acknowledging there might have been a divide before, and we're determined to work together and improve the numbers of underrepresented minority students who come into the dental field."

The dental leaders found the summit to be a continuation of groundwork that was laid years ago.

"Congratulations to the NDA, HDA and SAID for producing this wonderful conference that meant so much to so many people," Dr. Calnon said. "We have found that we have much common ground; that we have common concerns over the same issues and that we share the same love for our profession and for the public of this country that we serve."

Image: ADA President William R. Calnon chats with NDA President Roy Irons
Productive lunch: ADA President William R. Calnon chats with NDA President Roy Irons during a leadership luncheon.

Image: HDA board member Mildred McClain, Ph.D.
Hispanic dental traditions: Mildred McClain, Ph.D., HDA board member, waves a flag during the Opening Ceremonies of the Multi-Cultural Oral Health Summit.

Image: Oliver Wareham, of the Seminole Tribe of Florida
Music of the night: Oliver Wareham, of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, plays the flute at the Opening Ceremonies.

Image: SAID founder Dr. George Blue Spruce
Conference elder: Dr. George Blue Spruce, SAID founder, who at 81 years old was considered the elder of the conference, provides remarks after leading a prayer at the Opening Ceremonies.