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Former executive director of FDI World Dental Federation dies

Dr. Per Äke Zillen served in role for 12 years, remembered as ‘dynamic leader’

February 11, 2020

By David Burger

 Photo of Dr. Zillen
Dr. Zillen

Dr. Per Äke Zillen, executive director of the FDI World Dental Federation from 1989-2001, died Jan. 19 following a battle with cancer.

Dr. Zillen, a native of Sweden, was a “treasured member of the oral health community,” according to a tribute posted on the FDI website.

“Dr. Zillen was a great leader in the oral health profession,” the tribute said. “Colleagues affirm that Dr. Zillen transformed FDI from a rather ‘small and cozy club’ to a truly international, financially sound and robust membership organization. Friends and colleagues remember him as a dynamic leader with a razor-sharp mind. His creativity, ambition, and perseverance were responsible for FDI’s growth and status as a highly respected and influential global organization. Dr. Zillen held a life-long and steadfast commitment to achieving positive oral health outcomes worldwide.

“He would often ask, ‘What have you done today to improve oral health in the world?’ FDI remembers Dr. Zillen not only as a unique and instrumental FDI executive director, but also as a great man who was not afraid to embrace new challenges, and as such, changed FDI for the better.”

“I would declare Per Äke the father of the new FDI,” said Dr. Gerhard K. Seeberger, FDI president. “I heard also that, not only did he bring the weak FDI finances of the last decade of the FDI in order, but he also brought FDI’s membership and its benefits to a higher level of importance through establishing and maintaining contacts with colleagues all around the globe. For me personally, even if not knowing this great gentleman personally, he is an idol to follow and I honor him with committing himself to FDI and contributing with all I can give.”

Dr. Kathryn Kell, an Iowa dentist and immediate past president of the FDI, said she knew Dr. Zillen well and appreciated his honesty.

“He could be tough but I really appreciated him ‘telling it like it is,’” Dr. Kell said. “He worked with FDI presidents who also appreciated his candor and he helped them through some tough times.”

Dr. Kell said that Dr. Zillen “appreciated that I was a hard worker and not just there as a stepping stone to other positions or just something to add to my CV.”

Dr. Zillen had an impact on people other than those in the oral health community, Dr. Kell said.

“After he left the FDI for medical issues he lectured on how to help kidney conditions through diet and exercise,” Dr. Kell said. “I know he lived a lot longer and helped others live longer because of his research and reaching others with these problems.”