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Dentist to test physical endurance, fundraising skills before ADA 2018

Dr. Brett Kessler training for Hawaii Ironman championship while raising money to benefit blood cancer research

April 02, 2018

By Michelle Manchir

Photo of Dr. Kessler training on his bicycle
Full speed ahead: Dr. Brett Kessler is training for the Ironman World Championship in October in Hawaii, just before ADA 2018 – America’s Dental Meeting. He is using the opportunity to raise money for leukemia and lymphoma research. His mother, Gloria Kessler, died of leukemia in 2017.
Denver, Colo. — Following dental school, Dr. Brett Kessler spent much of his residency treating patients with blood-related illnesses and cancers.

His interaction with the population inspired him to combine his love of running races and competing in triathlons with fundraising for research related to blood-borne cancers.

So it was a grim coincidence when his mother, Gloria Kessler, was diagnosed in 2009 with leukemia.

"Even more interesting, the money raised by the team I coached in the early 2000s funded the research that led to the development of a drug used to treat the type of leukemia my mom had," said Dr. Kessler, a member of the ADA Council on Dental Benefit Programs. "Mom would not have lived the almost nine years that followed her diagnosis without that research."

Sadly, Ms. Kessler, a dedicated math teacher and mom of four, died in 2017 at age 73.

Honoring the memory of his mother is in part why Dr. Kessler's resolve to raise funds for cancer research may be stronger than ever.

Before ADA 2018 – America's Dental Meeting in Honolulu Oct. 18-20, Dr. Kessler will compete in the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

For those unfamiliar, Ironman competitors tackle a 2.4-mile ocean swim, 112-mile bicycle ride and 26.22 mile run — in that order — without a break. Many world championship attendees earned their spots through winning state or regional Ironman competitions. Dr. Kessler claimed a spot on a charity team having met physical qualifications and agreeing to raise money, $100,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. All of the money raised will go to the organization.

"I get to marry both things that mean a lot to me — honoring my mom and doing this crazy race," he said.

Dr. Kessler has a long history of athletic feats. A hobby cyclist growing up, he completed his first triathlon on a dare while in dental school. And he was hooked. Since then, he's competed in about a dozen triathlons, four half Ironman competitions and four ultra marathons — including a 50-mile race.

"I'm kind of extreme," he said with a laugh.

Photo of Gloria Kessler
In memoriam: Gloria Kessler, Dr. Brett Kessler's mother, was a math tutor and mom of four. She died of leukemia in 2017.
For his ambitious fundraising goal this year, he's secured some corporate donations, but hopes dental professionals will be willing to chip in. To contribute to his fundraising effort, visit

Beyond fundraising, Dr. Kessler said he hopes to raise awareness about the dental role of screening for cancers. Checking for lesions and swollen lymph nodes, which can be a sign of oral or blood cancers, is something Dr. Kessler said he regularly does. As a resident working with cancer patients, Dr. Kessler saw firsthand the toll chemotherapy and radiation can take on the mouth — including lesions and painful sores. He also learned how dental professionals can help mitigate the pain by prescribing rinses and offering other treatment.

The ADA recognizes that early oral cancer diagnoses have the potential to have a significant impact on treatment decisions and outcomes and supports routine visual and tactile examinations, especially for patients who are at risk, according to House of Delegates Resolution 85H-2014.

The 2017 ADA clinical practice guideline for the evaluation of potentially malignant disorders in the oral cavity provides best practices for early oral cancer diagnoses with potential to have a significant affect  treatment decisions and outcomes.  It supports routine visual and tactile examinations as a routine component of the comprehensive oral evaluation. To download and read the entire guideline, visit

Dr. Kessler said training for the Ironman, in addition to co-managing his practice full-time with his wife Dr. Gina Kessler and being a father to four children, has been grueling and requires careful time management. He hired a coach to help him stay on track with exercise and nutrition. In long-term recovery from substance abuse, Dr. Kessler said the demanding exercise is one of the ways he stays motivated, healthy and "resets his brain." That the ADA annual meeting directly follows the competition is another big motivator for completing the race, he said.

"I'll have to face all of my friends and colleagues," he said. "I've got so many reasons to finish."