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ADA News Convention Daily

‘Together we make an incredible impact’

Dentists share stories at ADA 2017 opening session

October 20, 2017

By Michelle Manchir

Opening General Session: ADA President Gary L. Roberts welcomes dentists to ADA 2017 Thursday. The morning session featured dentists sharing their personal stories.
One idea resurfaced over and over during the Opening General Session for ADA 2017: Dentists make a difference.

“The ADA represents more than 161,000 dentists,” ADA President Gary L. Roberts told a packed and lively convention hall Thursday morning. “Together we make an incredible impact on our patients, our community and our world.”

The one-hour program, presented by ACT Oral Care, launched the four-day meeting, where dental professionals and dental team members representing 53 ADA state societies and 552 local components have gathered for continuing education, networking and entertainment.

During the ceremony, attendees heard the stories of Dr. Patricia Blanton, a Texas anatomist, educator and periodontist who was recognized with the ADA Distinguished Service Award; and Dr. Usa Bunnag, who launched and maintains a dental clinic providing care to underserved people in Thailand. Dr. Bunnag received the ADA Humanitarian Award.

Both award recipients brought the audience to their feet upon entering the stage to receive their awards; Dr. Blanton received hers from Dr. Roberts, who first met Dr. Blanton when he was a dental student at Baylor University and she was an instructor.

Dr. Blanton thanked the dental community for “opportunities allocated to me by you” and specifically thanked the Dallas County Dental Society and her family.

“In addition to their endless encouragement, they gave me the most important gift of all … the gift of time; to carry out the work that I have so loved,” she said of her family.

Honored for service: ADA President Gary L. Roberts, above, poses with Dr. Patricia Blanton, the 2017 recipient of the ADA Distinguished Service Award. Below, ADA President-elect Joseph Crowley smiles with Dr. Usa Bunnag, the ADA Humanitarian Award recipient.
Dr. Usa Bunnag received her award from ADA President-elect Joe Crowley, who noted that Dr. Bunnag immigrated to the U.S. as a young teen before earning her dental degree and starting a private practice.

Dr. Bunnag founded Smiles on Wings, which build a permanent dental clinic in 2014 in Thailand with the help of a grant from the ADA Foundation.

Dr. Bunnag said she was honored to be the first woman to receive the award and thanked her family, mentor dental team and donors and grantors for their support.

She dedicated the award to her mother, who “instilled in me the importance of giving and being altruistic.” She said her mother taught her that when you have a little, you give a little and when you have a lot, you give a lot.

The theme of dentists making a difference also came to mind when three ADA member speakers took the stage to share stories of leadership and motivation.

Dr. Kreutzer
They included Dr. Jim Kreutzer of Wisconsin, who in addition to being a dentist serves as an executive producer of feature films. Earlier this year, a movie he helped create and develop, “Tommy’s Honour,” was released. It received a 2016 British Academy Scotland Award for best feature film. It will be screened Friday evening following the Distinguished Speaker Series.

Dr. Kreutzer said his first brush with Hollywood came when he purchased at an auction a walk-on role for his wife on the TV show “Cheers.”

While in California for the show, he connected with people who got him interested in filmmaking.  

That was more than 20 years ago, and today Dr. Kreutzer has 11 motion pictures, three music CDs and serves as a hands-on producer and consultant, he said, crediting the rigor of dentistry with “a lot of the success in this second career.”

“I owe a debt of gratitude to dentistry,” he said, adding that “the decision I made to be a dentist was the best decision I ever made.”

Dr. John Gammichia, a clinician from Florida, shared a story of his philanthropic endeavors, mostly recently the “Operation Bright Smiles” event he held at his office in 2016, serving dental care to more than 100 veterans.

Dr. Gammichia
Drawing laughs from the audience, Dr. Gammichia said he “made a deal with God” when enduring his four-day long state board exam years ago that if he passed the exam he would use his talents to serve others.

“I love dentistry, and I love my profession (and) serving others has become part of my DNA. I think back to that deal I made with God, and I can’t help but think he was probably orchestrating that whole thing.”

Dr. Josephine Chang Pallotto of Illinois shared her story last. Dr. Pallotto’s parents immigrated from Taiwan before she was born “with one suitcase and barely any money to start their life together in a foreign country.”

“They did the best they could with what they had, with their family as their priority,” she said.

With her parents’ support, Dr. Pallotto earned a D.D.S. at the New York University College of Dentistry before her mother’s diagnosis of stage four nasopharyngeal carcinoma.

Dr. Pallotto
Moved to honor her mother, Dr. Pallotto organized the first oral cancer walk in the south suburbs of Chicago earlier this year. “I had no idea what I was doing and probably had no business running a dental practice and trying to organize an oral cancer walk from scratch, but I knew I had to do something that would commemorate her in hopes of stimulating awareness in the community about this awful disease and saving at least one life.”

Dr. Pallotto said she hopes her mother’s story of perseverance and courage will inspire everyone.

“Even when struggling with the very cancer that would take her life, she always persevered, facing the challenge of each day with selfless attitude and brave heart.”

Dr. Roberts closed out the morning ceremony, officially launching America’s Dental Meeting. “Have a great week!” he said.