Leading FDI together

30 October 2017

Over the course of the last month, my new role as FDI President has already taken me to three different continents where I have been continually impressed and energized by the dedication and expertise of our local members and representatives.

From attending the Beirut International Dental Meeting where exciting new oral health initiatives were discussed alongside the pressing challenges of humanitarian crises; to celebrating the centenary of a  national member organization in Chile; to receiving the prestigious Shils Award in Philadelphia for innovation and leadership in oral health; and engaging with key industry partners and affiliate groups at the American Dental Association (ADA) Annual Meeting, the diversity of my experiences in October reflect the global nature of our mission to ‘lead the world to optimal oral health’ and the importance of speaking with a united voice to elevate the profile of oral healthcare both within and beyond borders.

My hope for each monthly update is that, apart from being a conduit to share my experiences and insights, it may inspire you to redouble your advocacy efforts - just as my interactions with you, our members, have similarly inspired me.

Hope and change in Lebanon

At the warm invitation of the Lebanese Dental Association (LDA), I was a guest speaker at the 27th Beirut International Dental Meeting (5–7 October). In my address to the opening ceremony, I emphasized the need for national dental associations to talk to their governments about the importance of oral health and general well-being, oral health challenges, and resource-appropriate responses.

The meeting also provided me with a valuable opportunity to engage with the Minister of Public Health Ghassan Hasbani, LDA President Dr Carlos Khairallah, and WHO Expert in Public Health and Community Dentistry Dr Mounir Doumit to discuss oral health and general health initiatives. Encouragingly, the Lebanese Ministry of Public Health is looking to celebrate World Oral Health Day with official activities being organized in conjunction with the LDA. This would represent an important milestone in raising the profile of oral health in Lebanon.

Joined by all the Presidents of all the Middle East Dental Associations, I later had an audience at the Palace with the President of the Lebanese Republic General Michel Aoun. Our talks covered a wide range of issues, including the plight of refugees and displaced people in Lebanon and its neighbouring countries. Dental care is a significant unmet health need of refugees and displaced persons in Lebanon. Lebanon, a country of only four million people, has received over one million displaced persons since 2011. This influx has put an overwhelming strain on Lebanon’s resources, including its healthcare system. For refugees and displaced people, access to basic health and dental care remains limited at best.

Indeed, one of the main concerns raised at our General Assembly at the FDI World Dental Congress in Madrid earlier this year was how to specifically include refugees, immigrants, and displaced persons into our strategies for the next years. The oral health challenges brought about by the mass displacement of people is a recurring theme for many countries that FDI needs to address. Alarmingly, the growing public health crisis we face is now a global one that is not localized to any particular region: Asia has been roiled by ongoing events in Myanmar resulting in the displacement of almost 900,000 Rohingya refugees to Bangladesh, while North America has been affected by the occurrence of devastating natural disasters.

Celebrating 100 years of excellence in Chile

It was a great pleasure to celebrate the Centennial Anniversary of Colegio de Cirujano Dentistas de Chile (The Chilean Dental Association), last month. Representatives from 12 countries in Latin America gathered in Santiago, Chile to attend several days of events. It was an honour and a thrill to participate in the festivities, as well as to see colleagues and friends from FDI’s global community. Coincidentally, it was also the 100th year of La Federación Odontológica Latinoamericana (FOLA).

Kicking off the week, we visited a school, La Escuela República de Paraguay, where many children come from migrant families. The Presidents of FDI’s Latin American Regional Organization (LARO) participated in a programme with Unilever to teach the children about the importance of brushing twice daily with a fluoride toothpaste and developing other good prophylactic habits in oral and general health. The children were incredibly engaged and excited to participate, and learn what will hopefully become lifelong lessons. Their enthusiasm was truly uplifting and serves as a powerful example of the tangible dividends that grassroots educational programmes and working collaboratively with our partners in the oral health industry can achieve.

The centennial celebrations concluded with a lovely ceremony at Chile’s Senate building. Among the ceremony highlights was a speech by the Chilean Vice Minister of Health Dr Jaime Burrows, who congratulated The Chilean Dental Association for their 100 years of service to healthcare in the country. The attendance of all oral health and health-related organizations in Chile, as well as representatives from other Latin American countries, served as an important reminder that oral diseases are not just an issue for the oral health community. Oral diseases have wide-reaching implications for the broader health community, and we must continue to work together for the integration of oral healthcare into general healthcare approaches.

While in Chile, I also took the opportunity to meet with LARO’s newly elected President Dr Lupe Salazar Zurita and its members to discuss FDI’s key ongoing programmes, advocacy efforts, and our new oral health definition.

Chile and all of Latin America should be justifiably proud of their past 100 years of working to better oral health and maintaining excellent standards of care for their members and patients. FDI would not be the success that it is today without the ongoing commitment and dedication at the national and regional levels of our member organizations, and we thank you wholeheartedly for all your support.

An awards ceremony to remember

I recently attended the 15th annual Shils Award ceremony hosted by the Dr Edward B. Shils Entrepreneurial Fund at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine.

The late Dr Shils was a remarkable man and genuine trailblazer, who I enjoyed the privilege of working alongside on a variety of committees over the years. He served as Executive Director of the Dental Manufacturers and the Dental Dealers of America for almost 50 years, and was instrumental in founding the Wharton Entrepreneurial Center. His eponymous fund is dedicated to fostering innovative leadership in healthcare. The Shils Awards recognize individuals, organizations, and programmes that safeguard the oral health of underserved populations and positively influence the dental community.

As such, I was deeply honoured to receive a Shils Award in recognition of FDI’s frontline advocacy role in developing policy and promoting oral health literacy. I accepted the award on behalf of all of us in the FDI family, who are working steadfastly to accomplish our goal of ‘leading the world to optimal oral health’. On a personal level, receiving the award has provided me with further inspiration to continue seeking better ways to innovate and build bridges across the healthcare spectrum in the same entrepreneurial spirit espoused by Dr Shils.

Autumn in Atlanta

As the capstone to an eventful month, I attended the ADA Annual Meeting along with several members of FDI’s executive team in the beautiful, autumnal surrounds of Atlanta, Georgia. This year’s ADA meeting was another valuable opportunity to meet and engage with leading educators alongside our invaluable partners and affiliate groups.

It was especially heartening to hear the unanimous message coming from our affiliate groups that they wish to be more closely involved with FDI’s activities. FDI recognizes the vital importance of speaking with one voice to achieve our vision of global oral healthcare. We enthusiastically embrace that challenge and, in the months ahead, we will be exploring new ways to optimize how we collaborate with our affiliates – watch this space.

Another memorable highlight of the ADA meeting was my social media collaboration with Henry Schein Chairman and CEO Stanley M. Bergman. We developed a short outreach video for Henry Schein Chats (#scheinchats) where we discussed the future of oral health and the dental profession, and addressed the priorities of FDI and our role as a leading global advocate for oral health. As a leader in the dental equipment field, Henry Schein appreciates how technology can advance the dental profession and supercharge the knowledge transfer of oral health best practices around the globe. I encourage you all to view the video for your edification. It can be viewed on FDI’s Facebook page.

FDI is grateful to the ADA for both its membership and its continued role as an indispensable partner in our mission to improve access to oral healthcare. Admittedly, I am already eagerly looking forward to ADA’s next annual meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii; which I suspect, is a sentiment echoed by many of our members.

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