Various professions, trades, and groups of individuals with similar interests have so-called annual “conferences”. Many of these are similarly structured in that they have a “kick-off” session, an inspiring keynote speaker, and various breakout sessions with a myriad of topics. On the surface, the American Dental Association (ADA) annual meeting seems no different. However, any attendees can tell you that attending the ADA Annual Session results in a deeper, more meaningful connection to the dental profession than imaginable.
This year, as a student at the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine, I was fortunate that the ADA chose Denver as the host for the annual meeting. As supporters of organized dentistry and continual learning, the school administration also chose to close our school to allow enthusiastic students and faculty to attend the conference.
While I knew that over 20,000 individuals with some connection to dentistry attended the conference, along with hundreds of exhibitors, I never anticipated the invigorating effect attending the conference would have on me indefinitely.
As President of Colorado ASDA, I was honored to have a small role in the Opening Session. During the rehearsal, I spoke with several presenters for the Opening Session—all dentists who had overcome adversity in some way to become successful dentists and role models. Their relentless pursuit of dentistry demonstrated to me that our profession is a special one—a profession that people pursue despite numerous financial and personal roadblocks.
After the Opening Session, admittedly, I was overwhelmed with my breakout session choices. The ADA had dozens of interesting breakout sessions, ranging from the use of dental photography and botox for cosmetic cases to the status of global oral healthcare and how to better market yourself. No matter your interest, the ADA had a breakout session with a distinguished speaker for you!
Additionally, throughout the conference, the Exhibit Hall was open where one could learn about the various dental-related products and services available. This too was an educational experience, since all dentists must be thoroughly knowledgeable about the products they are using, the professionals they use for other needs, and the organizations that can help them.
Often, other dental-related groups hold meetings or corollary events during the annual meeting, since so many dentists will be congregated in one place. Our Colorado ASDA chapter also took advantage of this by hosting a private session with Dr. Gordon Christensen (along with the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine, the LDS Academy and the Metro Denver Dental Society). Dr. Christensen is a pioneer in dental education and world icon in dentistry. We were honored to have him speak to our students and local new dentists. As with other distinguished speakers, he was also in Denver for the ADA Annual Session.
Another highlight for me, as with many others, would be the keynote speaker, Nobel-laureate Malala Yousafzai. As you may know, Malala is a global icon for vocalizing the importance of seeking an education.
At first glance, it may not seem like her cause is directly related to dentistry. But it is. As dentists and future dentists, we are automatically leaders. We are leaders of dental teams. And as professionals who must abide by a code of ethics and seek to do what is in the best interests of the people whom we serve, we are leaders in society.
As leaders, it is our duty to stay engaged in discourse about the status quo and continuously use our influence and respected position to make positive change—not just regarding dentistry, but any other injustice we see fit. As educated, and therefore, privileged individuals, we should never hold back. Instead, we should continuously be proactive to challenge our communities and ourselves.
Attending the annual session is just one way for dental professionals to stay connected with each other, reaffirm their commitment to the profession, and continuously evolve as professionals and people.