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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.

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.

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As the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry moves from strength to strength, how is our progress reflected in the oral health of the country at large? And how do our goals, successes, and initiatives here in San Francisco affect other countries — especially emerging nations?

As you know, my mandate includes a substantial amount of contact with our international colleagues. We continue to forge bonds that, one by one, bring the worldwide dental community closer together and play a part in influencing the way that our profession affects global healthcare issues. But there are problems closer to home.

Nationally, we are seeing a decline in overall dental health. Part of this is due to a surge in immigration by individuals who — for reasons of income or culture or habit — cannot afford to or do not budget to put dental care into their lives. The trouble is, this has created a downward slide in the overall health of these individuals, with a follow-on impact on national healthcare allocation and budgeting. All of us, from the newest student to the most senior member of the faculty, need to keep this issue front and center in every aspect of our professional lives.

Many of the more established members of our community are working to influence legislation, raise funds and create a consciousness about this problem. Our Kids in the Klinic program involves just about everyone who attends, or used to, or even been into contact with the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry. It is a wonderful program. Please, do not let it slide when you graduate! Build into your career goals a plan to take part in a golf tournament, buy a raffle ticket or waive the fees for one disadvantaged patient every now and then. Dr. Renee DellAcqua, at her Palm Desert practice, regularly holds free Tooth Fairy clinics for the children of low-income families. She and her staff go the extra mile by dressing up in full fairy outfits, wings, and all. If you do not want to wear a fairy outfit — just plan to do as she does and, when you graduate, help make a difference, one child at a time.

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I want to congratulate so many people at the Dugoni School who have been, and will continue to be, engaged in leadership. As you know, one of our seven values is leadership. It is constantly demonstrated that we are true leaders. I was pleased to see that our students were recognized and assumed leadership roles during the recent American Student Dental Association meeting. Again, it is a great recognition of what value we contribute to organized dentistry, to dental education, and many other avenues. I am also pleased that many of our students, as well as former students, will be engaged in leadership roles during the upcoming California Dental Association meeting in San Francisco.

During my recent travels, I was also happy to see Dr. Anders Nattestad recognized as a leader at the Association of Dental Educators for Europe meeting. He was engaged in numerous presentations. At the same time, it gives me great pleasure to announce that Dr. Derry Shanley was given an honorary membership into ADEE during that meeting.

These are only a few of the examples of leadership roles that so many people from the Dugoni School are involved in. It is important that we maintain that value and continue to contribute to organized dentistry and to society at large. I look forward to seeing you all. Thank you.