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As I have said many times, the Dugoni School of Dentistry is one large family. Throughout our daily lives, we work together, play together, share each other’s joys and, unfortunately at times, share sad moments.

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit with a group of our alums who are part of an event called the Greco-Roman Fly Fishing Week, held in the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountains. These people have spent so much time together throughout their lives, sharing their joys and unhappy times as well. Their friendships have endured for many years. I had the opportunity to see multiple generations – sons of our graduates who are also graduates of our institution. Their love for each other is tremendous, as is their love for the Pacific family, which was expressed often during the gathering.

Patients are part of our family here as well. I recently received a letter from a patient who wrote how blessed I must feel to be dean of this great dental school. Her needs were taken care of in a compassionate and friendly manner, and she was very pleased. I wrote back to her and said I’m very blessed to be the dean of such a great dental school.

To all the faculty, staff, students, alums and friends – thank you for all you do for the school, for our patients and for me. It is truly a unique place. In all of my career experiences in various capacities, I have never have seen an organization of this nature. It is all because of our people. A school can have great facilities, but not very good people and as a result, the institution as a whole won’t be very good. Here, we have great people, great facilities, and are very blessed to all be working together.

My best wishes to you all. I continue to want to hear thoughts and ideas from you, whether online or in person at the various school events coming up throughout the year.

Health authorities are learning more about the H1N1 influenza virus (swine flu) with each passing day. Even with the growth in new cases, it is encouraging that the virus is not as serious as originally anticipated. As we continue to monitor the situation, it brings up a chance to reflect back on what has happened, and prepare for the future. 

Crisis situations, such as a pandemic, provide opportunities to reinforce what you were doing, or completely change what you were doing prior to an incident. 

There are two brief lessons I think we all can learn from this experience. As healthcare providers, the first thing is we need to always be conscious of illness. We need to make sure that we not only protect our patients, but we protect ourselves. It is important to ask the right questions to ascertain the health of patients (and ourselves) before providing care. Certainly, as healthcare providers, we need to make sure we do not pass along any infectious disease to patients. All the protocols that were recommended during the H1N1 outbreak are protocols that should be followed every day, whether we are in the flu season or not. 

The second lesson is about the value of being prepared for emergencies, whether it is a flu outbreak, earthquake or other natural disaster. We have a lot to learn from the people in New Orleans, and especially the dental school there, following hurricane Katrina. We are fortunate to have Dr. Eric Hoyland, the former dean of the Louisiana State University School of Dentistry, spending some time at the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry this fall. He will be working with our team as we review our contingency plans related to natural disasters. 

Each of us also needs to be prepared individually. One important thing for all of us, including our school-wide community, is to have a process for effective communication. By effective, it means it must be timely and accurate. 

There can be a lot of rumors and misunderstandings during times of crisis. As a result of the recent global awareness around NHN1, we have reviewed and shored up our processes to ensure effective communication among the School of Dentistry family.

I have appointed a task force who will be responsible for reviewing our emergency preparedness, including how we communicate. Please stay tuned for more information about this initiative in the coming weeks. This team is also able to rapidly convene to discuss any particular issue as needed.

The bottom line is that we always need to be prepared. In doing so, it relieves a lot of the stress and anxiety if issues such as the flu outbreak arise again.

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I recently had the privilege of facilitating and coordinating a meeting in Mexico City called the Oral Health Workshop for the Region of the Americas.

The sponsors of the meeting were the Pan American Health Organization, known as PAHO, and the government of Mexico. Our purpose in organizing the meeting was to discuss ways to create caries-free communities.

We had a great turnout, with 38 countries of the Americas sending representation. Each country was asked to present what is being done in their country to create caries-free communities, especially for the most vulnerable populations. All the presentations were interesting, but there were a few highlights that really stood out for me.

In Uruguay, for example, I found it fascinating that the president’s wife, the first lady, has adopted oral healthcare as her number-one initiative. Children in all schools receive a toothbrush, toothpaste and glass in which they are required to brush their teeth twice a day. They felt this was most effective way to ensure that kids were brushing their teeth given the fact that when children got home, good oral healthcare was not strictly enforced. This demonstrates that when policy makers become committed to oral healthcare, things get done.

The second thing that caught my attention was that fluoride as a means for preventing tooth decay, whether in the water or salt fluoridation, seemed to be widely accepted. It didn’t seem that there was any protest about the use of fluoride as an additive in either the salt or water.

Finally, many of the countries made strong cases about the linkage between oral healthcare and general health. During the last part of the meeting, small groups came together to try to design the ideal model to ensure that caries-free communities were effectively created.

Unfortunately, I did not participate in that portion of the meeting. The swine flu outbreak began to shut down Mexico City and I felt it was necessary for me to leave the country and return home to San Francisco. I am pleased to note that I have had no signs or symptoms of flu. I look forward to reading the final reports from the conference.

Locally, we recently began some discussions at the School of Dentistry to look at the possibility of identifying a community within San Francisco (and perhaps Central Valley) where we can develop a caries-free community. We’ll be having further discussions regarding this effort and I will keep the dental community informed about this exciting initiative.

I had a great time this past Saturday participating in the annual Pacific Pride Day open house at our school. This year we had approximately 300 potential students and their family members tour our facilities, learn more about our programs and visit with our family of students, faculty and staff.

Pacific Pride Day is an energizing experience for me. I’m passionate about our field and enjoy talking to anyone considering oral healthcare as a profession.

Our profession is really all about people. Oral healthcare providers make a tremendous impact on people’s lives. Our profession puts a smile on people’s faces. Some people are ashamed of their mouth or their smile. Dentists make a direct impact on a person’s health and state of mind.

Those in the field of oral healthcare also teach people that what goes on in their mouths affects their lives. Saliva in the mouth can tell you about your overall health in many ways. For women who are pregnant, diseases of the mouth can impact the health of their baby. Research has also shown that there is an association between periodontal (gum) diseases and other chronic inflammatory conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease illness and Alzheimer’s disease.

Our profession also makes a tremendous impact on children. Dental decay is one of the most common chronic infectious diseases among childrenthe young. Oral healthcare providers screen and treat thousands of children every day, helping to alleviate pain and give these children a reason to smile.

My education in dentistry led me to my running my own endodontic specialty practice for many years. I was rewarded every day from people I met and treated. I knew I was making a difference in their health and, in doing so, was making an impact on their lives.

For those considering oral healthcare as a profession, I’m here to encourage you. Whether you find a home at our school or another school, I’m glad you are considering this rewarding field.