A Weekend at a Dental Convention

On rare occasions, the dentist’s answering machine plays that message, “the office is closed for continuing education.” This time, I thought it would be fun to take you with me to my favorite continuing education meeting, the Yankee Dental Congress.

Thursday through Sunday, of the last week of January, I make my way to the Hynes Convention Center, in downtown Boston, to take continuing education courses, see the latest equipment and materials, and to see old friends.

Dentistry is always changing. Meetings such as this are an important and fun way that dentists and associated professionals stay up to date. Massachusetts dentists are required to take 40 hours of continuing education every two years. Other states’ requirements vary. Many dentists take all of their continuing education at the “Yankee.”

Thursday morning I plan to arrive before 8 a.m. to take a course in endodontics or root canal therapy. The Orange Line subway car is held up, so I change to the Green Line.

I arrive at the Hynes too late to make that early class. Pushing past young people wearing giant Oral B toothbrushes, I search for a later course on restoring teeth that had undergone root canal treatment.

Outside the classroom, I run into my dental school classmate, Dr. Jeff Lowenstein. Dr. Lowenstein is on the committee that arranges the series of one hour courses called the “Minuteman” lectures. He did not have a trained volunteer to act as the presiding chair or host for the afternoon classes. My offer to do the job is quickly accepted.

That afternoon, I am the host for a variety of classes on subjects ranging from new dental lights for hardening tooth colored fillings to working with nervous patients. One of the speakers was one of my professors in dental school, Dr. Arthur Weiner.

Another speaker is Dr. Simone Deliperi, a visiting lecturer from the isle of Sicily who is doing research with another of my classmates, Dr. David Bardwell, at Tufts Dental School. Each class teaches me something new and reviews familiar material.

I take lunch that day with the other volunteers. Lunch is chicken in a special sauce with vegetables and salad.

As a special treat, someone drags a professional Paris Hilton look-alike into our lunch room. Some of us have our picture taken with her. I will leave that photo in my shirt pocket as a surprise for my wife.

Friday morning, I walk through the exhibit halls. There are over 900 exhibitors. I only have a couple of hours to shop.

I plan to buy enough exam gloves to qualify for a free baseball autographed by Mike Timlin. I don’t have time to wait to speak with him, so I take a ball that he had already autographed.

I pick up free samples of toothpaste and toothbrushes from many manufacturers, chewing gum, candy, pens, toys and even a free letter opener. I collect donations of toothbrushes and toothpaste from manufacturers for homeless families.

I visit the representatives of Dental Blue and Delta Dental at their respective booths. I speak with most of them on the phone regularly, and it’s nice to be able to put a name with a face.

The dental director of Altus Dental Insurance tries to sign me up as a provider. I speak with representatives of H & O Dental Laboratory, the dental lab that makes dentures and crowns for my patients. They are baking cookies in their booth.

Many of the companies that manufacture dental equipment are there with their latest devices. One company offers dentists a free rolling backpack to dentists who have the time to observe a demonstration of their laser and try it out. Every kind of dental chair, drill, light and sterilizer is represented. All of these pieces of equipment are offered at a special “show” price.

I wish I had more time to browse.

Lunch on Friday is a working lunch. The Councils on Dental Care and Dental Benefit Reimbursement of each of the New England states meet over lunch every year at the Yankee. We eat chicken with a special sauce, vegetables and salad.

A representative from the American Dental Association speaks about the codes we use to report dental procedures to insurance companies, and the number of complaints made to the ADA about some insurance companies. Each New England state’s representative reports on the actions of their council for the last year. I run to take my next class.

Friday afternoon I finally take that course on root canal treatment. Whenever I take a technique course, I leave with a list of new equipment I need to buy. These “free” courses can be very expensive.

Friday evening, there is a hospitality room for Tufts Dental School alumni. Tufts alumni from far and near, gather to eat finger food and sip cocktails. It’s a great opportunity to catch up with old friends and network. I run into many of my co-teachers, classmates and friends.

Saturday, I have a full plate of activity. I am the Room Coordinator (assistant host) for two fascinating courses. It is my job to arrive at the rooms an hour before class time.

I make sure that the room lights and audio visual equipment work and are set up correctly, pass out class materials, collect the tickets of the people who pay to take the course, and collect course quality surveys at the end.

The morning course is on dental manifestations of genetic disease (Why does that person have funny looking teeth?). The afternoon course is on diagnosis and treatment of oral pathology (What kind of mouth sore is that and how do we fix it?).

Between courses, I run to the volunteer lunchroom in the Sheraton, and have a quick lunch of chicken with a special sauce, vegetables and salad. I sit with a table of dentists who lecture to dentists all over the world on dental bonding techniques and materials.

One of them is one of my classmates and associate dean of Tufts Dental School, Dr. Gerry Kugel.

After lunch, I take time to browse the work of dental assisting and dental hygiene students. They set up informative displays that report on various aspects of dental treatment and research. The hall is like a very advanced high school science fair. They all take turns explaining their projects to every onlooker. Every demonstration is interesting and professional. Each participant deserves top marks just for being there.

Sunday morning, I take one last class for a total of 25 continuing education hours. This course is on the use of dental implants. As I leave the Hynes I pass a few of my friends. We say goodbye until next year.

The 2005 Yankee Dental Congress was very busy for me. I did not participate in any of the cultural events that mark every Yankee Dental Congress.

This year I could have heard Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe speak at the opening ceremony about his career in reporting. Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra performed at the new Boston Convention and Exhibition Center (the future home of the Yankee). William Martin, author of Harvard Yard and Back Bay was there, as well.

That is one of the things about the Yankee that keeps it so successful. None of us can do everything, but there is always next year.

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