Missing the in-Person Dental Meetings?

Damon Adams, DDS


As we arrived at the first full month of fall, it seemed strange, to say the least, that we were not preparing to physically attend the annual meeting of the American Dental Association! Since all the meetings for the remainder of 2020, and some now in early 2021, have been rightly and responsibly converted to virtual meetings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it will be interesting to see how success will be measured at these events. What will the post-event evaluations look like in terms of the level of involvement/attendance as well as the post-meeting evaluations by the doctors, dental team members, and the exhibitors who have historically played a major role in financial support? In my opinion, although there are distinct advantages to digital technologies that allow us to “connect” in amazing new ways, the “new normal” offered and promoted by technologies the likes of Zoom do not, and should not, replace the in-person camaraderie beyond the eventual end of the pandemic that allows all 5 human senses to be involved in creating our experiences.

Let’s take a moment to think about this with a simple analogy. Would you prefer to go on a virtual vacation to your favorite island or ski resort this winter? Or would you like to travel to that destination in full reality—to be able to take in the wondrous excitement by seeing, smelling, touching, tasting, and hearing all that is made available in the complete experience? This is exactly why I mentioned in my September Editor’s Page that I, for one (and hopefully not the only one!), will simply not accept the concept of “new normal” as the new prescription for living, despite the fact it is being ingrained into our collective subconscious mind through constant repetition. Yes, any major societal event can definitely cause changes, but once we’re on the other side of this pandemic (and this is not our first rodeo with deadly viruses in recent decades), why would we ever support, as we hear some already hinting at a possible permanent change to all-virtual formats for all dental meetings?

One must consider that our meetings are much more than lectures, CE credits, and evaluating and buying products. Attending off-site meetings offer the chance to expand our horizons a bit by getting out of the confines of the dental office. Spontaneously finding old friends and making new friends and acquaintances are wonderful parts of non-virtual dental meetings. The chance to be with each other and discuss personal and professional topics over a meal or coffee, in evening social gatherings, and in the exhibit hall is invaluable. Digital meetings have rapidly grown in number during this pandemic due to convenience and cost and primarily because of the perceived issues related to safety. No doubt, they will have a more prominent role in the profession going forward. However, going to all-virtual meetings effectively removes some of the most important ways that serve to build personal and interprofessional relationships. It takes away the joy of being with one another and opposes what we know to be critical to a relationship-dependent profession. The strong need for human contact and interaction is intimately wired into our DNA, and these emotions are required for our very survival as a species. It is the very reason so many have struggled with the psychological impact of the experimental public health-directed lockdown, even though it’s for a relatively short duration of time.

So, how far will we take this? Will a day come soon when we permanently decide to never leave our offices or homes because we are somehow, and in some way, going to be “unsafe?” Is that the kind of world you remember? Do we truly want to visualize, create, and live in a future where we are physically apart from each other and spending the majority of our time “connected” more and more digitally? Like money, technology can be a blessing, or it can be a curse. It’s a matter of how we employ it. Are we going to allow ourselves to become controlled and enslaved by technology and its corporate overlords, or will it be used only in service to humanity—without taking “human” out of the equation? Our possible future scenarios, including those that we once thought to be only the stuff of science fiction (eg, The Matrix movie series), will be dependent upon the decisions and choices that we are making now, as a profession, and as a society as a whole.

Please enjoy this exciting issue of Dentistry Today!

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