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New ADA president challenges dentists to "lead the change"

October 30, 2017

By Jennifer Garvin

ADA president: New ADA President Dr. Joseph P. Crowley addresses the ADA House of Delegates following his Oct. 23 installation in Atlanta.
Atlanta — As he addressed the House of Delegates during his Oct. 23 installation, new ADA President Joseph P. Crowley invited ADA members to unleash their idealism and elevate dentistry to new heights.

"We have to open ourselves to look at our situation with fresh, open eyes," he said. "This is our time to lead."

During his term as ADA president, Dr. Crowley said he wants the ADA to be representative of all dentists and inclusive of every race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and practice model.

"The world is changing, and we understand that dentistry is changing. Let's lead that change instead of chasing it."

Dr. Crowley reminded his fellow dentists of this: It takes a village to make you the person you become.

"This is true everywhere," he said. "In a city, it's the folks in your neighborhood who are your community — like the shopkeeper on the corner who makes your cinnamon rolls and coffee. In our small towns, it's the teacher who has taught every kid in your family, and all your cousins, too."

For Dr. Crowley, that meant growing up in Monfort Heights, a neighborhood in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he spent almost all of his life, save for his dental school education at The Ohio State University College of Dentistry in Columbus.  

"Each and every person you encounter is part of shaping the person you become," he said. "Some of the influences are good and some are bad, and the sum of those influences more or less makes up the person you are. Then, somewhere along the line you morph into an adult and the script starts to flip," and "you're the teacher."

"Young people in dentistry feel idealistic about our profession. They have this deep belief that the profession can change the world and a belief that if they work hard enough they can put a dent in the universe and leave it better than they found it. That's something they were taught as kids, and they've held onto that. That idealism is something I feel we all can own."

In his own life, mentors meant people like his dentist, Dr. Norbert Ranz, who taught him to treat people as you want to be treated, and success will come, and his successor Dr. Andy Bartish, whose vision for dentistry is more idealistic than the reality of today. He also thanked his family — wife, Pauletta, and three children and seven grandchildren.

"When we are kids, each of us is taught that we have a responsibility to do good work with our God-given talents. In dental school, we learn what it means to bring those talents to bear on issues for our patient care, and on problems our society faces with oral health success like access to care issues, and helping people live healthy lives, and advocating for better health provider collaboration, and even working toward a more inclusive world are just of few of the issues we face. These aren't just issues that exist within the world of dentistry — they're universal."

Dr. Crowley said dentists need to claim their place as a major player in health care, not just in dental health but in overall health as well, and urged his fellow dentists to look at their role in society and urged them to "pull up a seat at the tables," whether those tables be in local government or the editorial boards of their hometown newspapers.

"It's about being part of bigger conversations about health," the 154th president said. "It's about making sure that people who need care get care. Whether you believe it's fair or not, this responsibility has been thrown in our laps as dentists. The surgeon general's report in 2000 put it in our lap. The political climate in Washington today put it in our lap. But when we graduate from dental school and take our oath as dentists, we became the ones best equipped to address this challenge."

He added that dentists must continue to be the "most competent group diagnosing disease and completing dental procedures" in order to show patients and the health care industry how crucial it is for dentists to be involved in important dental health decisions.

"On this we cannot compromise," he said.

During his 41 years practicing dentistry, Dr. Crowley said he wished he'd taken more opportunities to step outside his comfort zone and talk to the local medical group and be more engaged in conversations in his community so that he could open his eyes to become part of a bigger world, part of a bigger solution.

He challenged dentists to commit to lead the change, inspire young people and improve dentistry for future generations of dentists and patients.

"That's a commitment I make you to you as president of the American Dental Association. More importantly, it's a commitment I make as an idealistic dentist who wants to leave our universe better than I found it."

He offered these three priorities for ADA members:

  • Working together with stakeholders. "It is time for us all to reach out to DSOs (dental service organizations), and to reach out to the state dental boards, the dental schools and the medical schools, too. Let's also reach out to the dental specialty groups and our sister groups like the Academy of General Dentistry, the National Dental Association, the Society of American Indian Dentists, the Hispanic Dental Association, the American Association of Women Dentists and any organization that has an interest in our profession. The ADA can do this successfully at all levels of our tripartite.
  • Collaborating outside the profession. "This means collaborating with the entire health care industry to connect total body health to dental health, where physicians, dentists, nurse practitioners, Community Health Dental Coordinators and the entire health care system work together to help people live healthier lives. Science and research are connecting these dots and our ADA Science Institute is a high-level participant in this work.
  • Setting loftier goals, because dentists can change the world. He shared an anecdote about Jack Welch, former chief executive officer of General Electric, who understood that you have to make people believe they are capable of greatness and let them rise to the challenge. For Dr. Crowley that means creating a world free of dental disease, where everyone has access to care, and the ADA is where "all dentists feel like they belong."

He encouraged his fellow dentists to share their own visions for the profession.

"I'm asking you to reach out to me, to all the ADA leadership and let's have this conversation together. We win when we work together. This is our time to lead."

He concluded by challenging everyone to use their talents to continue to affect the people that are around us.

"We have already figured out that the way we can make a difference in the world is by being a dentist. Now let's step outside of ourselves. Take the risk. Be bold. Have courage. Let's make that difference in our world a big difference."

Watch the entire speech here.