The Strive for Meaningful Progress in Oral Health

A Reflection of my experience attending the 2021 ADEA Annual Session & Exhibition and why you should attend in 2022 
By Sally Zhou, D1 at UCSF 

What ADEA event did I attend? 

I attended 2021 ADEA’s Annual Session & Exhibition. This was the first time in ADEA history that the conference was held completely virtually due to safety concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Why did I attend? 

I attended the conference to learn more about the impact of COVID-19 on dental education and dental finance. My goal was to influence oral health policy to improve dental educational experiences and promote critical changes in the dental reimbursement system to increase access to oral health care for patients. 

What are three things I learned? 

1) Nobody has all the answers during a pandemic. 2021 ADEA Annual Sessions provided a platform for leadership within the dental education and dental finance space to share stories and lessons learned while maneuvering through challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. I heard from dental faculty describing their difficulties with student engagement while brainstorming ways to make virtual lectures more exciting. I learned about the benefits and disadvantages with regards to tele-dentistry and how this affects the day-to-day operations for dental providers in the industry. Introductions to unique reimbursement models and concepts like value-based care were hot topics of discussion as they are new and innovative ways to promote systemic change in the way oral healthcare is structured in this country. In the end, I realized that everyone has an important role to play, in the attempt to restore a sense of normalcy while embracing changes and innovation during a critical time in history.  

2) Collaboration is key. As the pandemic continues an unpredictable path, it is becoming clearer to me that although no one has all the answers, the possible resolutions to problems lie in collaboration and discussions amongst professionals of various industries. Professionals – including leadership in oral health policy, organized dentistry, dental academia, dental insurance, and Federally Qualified Health Centers – and business leaders involved with the dental supply chain are key players in ensuring an oral health system that serves our patients. At the 2021 ADEA Annual Sessions, I attended many seminars that reported examples of collaboration between dental school faculty, students, and policy makers on addressing the transition to virtual education in dentistry and the implications on the dental school curriculum and dental licensure regulations. In the oral health space, I believe it is a necessity for leaders in various fields to be willing and flexible to change and adapt as patient oral health care needs continue to change throughout a pandemic and beyond. 

3) Take notes, take calculated risks, and take action. As circumstances continue to change during this pandemic, it is important to remind ourselves that everyone is still learning, and nothing is set in stone forever. Attending the ADEA conference offered a place for me to listen to the stories and become aware of the problems in dental education and dental finance. I believe the most important thing is to take all the information that’s known, brainstorm possible resolutions with specialists within and outside of the dental profession and TAKE ACTION. At the end of the day, it is important to remember that nearly nothing happens overnight, and I believe that the change we want to see depends on the steps we are willing to take to achieve our collective goals, no matter how big or small.  

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