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ADA president to members: Dentistry needs leaders like you

November 05, 2018

By Jennifer Garvin

Photo of Dr. Cole giving acceptance speech
ADA President: Dr. Jeffrey M. Cole addresses the ADA House of Delegates in Honolulu Oct. 22. Photo by EZ Event Photography
Honolulu — During his opening address to the House of Delegates on Oct. 22, ADA President Jeffrey M. Cole issued a call to action to dentists everywhere: "What difference will you make?" he asked.

"Dentistry needs leaders like you, now more than ever," the ADA's 155th president continued. "Together we can deliver not only what our members and our patients need today, but what they can't even imagine they will need tomorrow."

A native of Wilmington, Delaware, Dr. Cole said he considered himself fortunate to be a dentist and is grateful for the ability to treat patients and the opportunity to improve their oral health and make a difference in their lives.  

"Last year when I was elected president I had the opportunity to address you, the House of Delegates of the American Dental Association. I ended my comments with this thought: 'The future is bright,'" he recalled.

During his year traveling the country as ADA president-elect, Dr. Cole found those words resonated with his fellow dentists — his dental "ohana" — because "so many of us truly believe that the future of our profession is bright." (Ohana is the Hawaiian word for family.)

"But we also know that the business and practice of dentistry is changing dramatically, from advances in science to increased technology, from economic pressure to professional uncertainty, from outside influences to what has been referred to as not only the commoditization of dentistry but really all of health care," he said.

Dentistry's challenge is to shape these forces in ways that stay true to the profession.

"That's why it is so important — and so critical — that we are all gathered here today, to debate the policy that expresses who we are and what we stand for as an organization, and to elect those among us that will lead us into the future," Dr. Cole said.

To succeed, everyone from dental students to seasoned practitioners needs to be ready. For that, he reminded them, they could rely on the support of another member of the dental ohana, the Association.

"When things get tough, we know we have our profession, our dental ohana, and most of all we have our American Dental Association behind us, to help us and support us in delivering optimal health."

He pointed to two former corporations, Kodak and Blockbuster, who did not survive disruptive changes to their industries and ultimately went out of business.

"[These companies] send an ominous warning to those of us concerned with advancing an organization, and perhaps an even more dire message for those of us concerned with advancing a profession: adapt to disruption, or risk losing everything."

He reminded his audience that disruption can be many things. It can be good — for its role in creating new opportunities. It can also be scary, because change is often scary. But most of all, it can be motivating.

"We cannot pretend that disruptors don't exist, if we intend on advancing our profession in the most positive manner," Dr. Cole said. "We cannot delay uncomfortable but necessary discussions about how to address these forces. This is my commitment to you."

On behalf of the ADA he promised "bold action" on issues that impact ADA dentists and patients, particularly the recent example of dentistry taking the lead on health care providers' response to the opioids crisis. He also singled out the ADA's new business model project, which is tasked with creating a new platform to match established dentists and new dentists for mentorship and employment opportunities.

In conclusion he said, "Dentistry needs leaders like you, now more than ever. Together we can deliver not only what our members and our patients need today, but also what they can't even imagine they will need tomorrow. Together, we can all take pride in charting a positive future of our profession. Together we will advance dentistry.

"Looking out at this fine group, on this exciting day, I have never been more confident.

The future is bright."