Leaving on a high note

John WalshJohn Walsh

Outgoing Dental Dean Dr John Walsh reflects on a hugely successful Annual Scientific Meeting and reveals the highs and lows of his tenure

Around 18 months ago, when the Faculty of Dentistry at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) started planning the 2016 Annual Scientific Meeting (ASM) with the American Academy of
Paediatric Dentistry (AAPD), they initially hoped 20 US dentists would come over and visit.

However, as Dean of the Faculty of Dentistry Dr John Walsh explains, within a very short space of time, it was clear they had underestimated the demand by some distance. He said: “We realised quite early on that 20 wasn’t going to be enough and we quickly went from 20 to 40 to 70 and we finally had to cap it at 200 US delegates.

“Normally the numbers we get at this meeting are in the region of ı80, and that would be a good year. This year, we very quickly realised, when we took into account the 200 US delegates, that it was going to be a much bigger event. People then started to sign up from Ireland and we reached nearly 450 in total. This was by far the biggest meeting we have ever had in the history of the Faculty of Dentistry.”

The 2016 ASM was Dr Walsh’s last in his term as Dean of the dental faculty and he explained that the convention is for the outgoing Dean to choose the subject area for the meeting, usually around their own area of interest. He said: “The tradition for the third ASM that you can indulge your own fantasies in dentistry and, because of my background in paediatric dentistry and orthodontics, that was always going to be the topic.

“It started out as a concept about 18 months ago when we had a speaker from the United States who came visit, Dr Amr Moursi. He went back to the US and said some nice things about the hospitality that was given to him. He is a member of the AAPD and they came to us with the idea of having a joint meeting with the Faculty of Dentistry here at the RCSI.”

And Dr Walsh admits that he was quite taken aback by the numbers of his American colleagues that decided to make the trip. He said:“I was amazed because that number doesn’t include their partners. So it is also very good for the local economy as well. All these people came to Dublin and many spent time before and after the ASM in Dublin and they are spending money around the city. The weather was also fantastic and a lot of them are golfers so, overall, they were just enthralled by the place.”

The majority of the US delegates were visiting Ireland for the first time and Dr Walsh explained that they hired a genealogist for the duration of the ASM so that the visiting dentists could trace their Irish roots.

He said: “The information was given to all the delegates from the AAPD about six months ago and the idea was that, if they had any Irish ancestry, which the majority of them do, then they would supply all the information in advance. The genealogist was present throughout the meeting and it proved to be a huge success, an amazing thing.

“There was one lady who hired him after the ASM to go and trace her ancestors down in Kiltimagh. There was another lady who wanted to try and get Irish citizenship. He had a host of stories and he was absolutely swamped – I kind of felt a bit sorry for him. But that was just a small idea that snowballed and worked out really well.”

A global meeting

The 2016 ASM, with the title ‘Small Beginnings, Big Outcomes’, was a rare chance for US and Irish dentists to come together and design a truly international conference programme. He said: “We tried to make it global, both from the point of view of the future of paediatric dentistry and the future of dentistry in general. We also divided it down into more clinical topics where dentists who were attending would see something and say, ‘that’s something I can use’.

“For example, silver diamine fluoride is considered to be the new magic bullet for patients that have decay. It is a simple procedure to paint it on and Dr Billy Fenlon spoke about that. I think that a lot of the dentists who were present won’t have been exposed to that information. It was developed in Europe so I think the American dentists took that new information on board to take back to the United States because it has only recently been recognised by the Federal Drug Administration in the US. So, in that regard, we are ahead of them.

“There was also a very interesting debate on the Hall Technique, which is a controversial procedure in paediatric dentistry that involves putting on stainless steel crowns without preparation. So, we held a debate on the pros and cons of that, and it proved to be a vibrant discussion between the
two proponents.”

On the final afternoon of the meeting, Professor Jeffrey Dean presented the prestigious Sheridan Lecture, which is held at the ASM on alternate years. The lecture is named in honour of Edward Leo Sheridan, the first dental President of RCSI as well as the first President of the Dental Board (the forerunner to the GDC) in the UK.

Prof Dean, who is a Professor of orthodontics and paediatric dentistry at the Indiana University School of Dentistry, is actually based within RCSI at present as a Fulbright Scholar – the first Fulbright Scholar that the Faculty of Dentistry has ever had. Dr Walsh said:

“Prof Dean’s lecture was on ‘Continued competency in dentistry’ highlighting what people need to do to maintain their skill levels and whether they should be doing recertification etc.

“He was also made an Honorary Fellow of the College, which is the highest honour that can be bestowed on anybody. So, he was fully involved over the two days.”

Taking stock

Looking back over his three-year term as Dean of the faculty, Dr Walsh rates the ASM as the definite high point, but states that he is also very proud of the excellent work the faculty is doing both at home and abroad. He said: “The faculty is very busy abroad. We have exam centres in the Middle East in Qatar, Bahrain, Khartoum, Ajman and Kuwait as well as in Sweden and in New York. The numbers taking the exams have increased constantly in my time, so that aspect has been a big success. It is a vibrant faculty and that is what keeps it going.

“From a domestic point of view we put on the MFD and the diploma exam, and the numbers for those have been increasing. We also put on a free intensive review course for those exams in the college about a month before the exams, which is always free and we have had very big numbers for that as well. In addition, we run a continuing education lecture series that takes place on a monthly basis on Saturday mornings throughout the year and has proved to be very popular. ”

However, as with many aspects of dentistry in modern day Ireland, Dr Walsh expressed his frustration that some of the hopes he laid out at the start of his tenure haven’t come to pass. He said: “When I look back at the speech I gave at the dinner three years ago, I said that we needed the introduction of foundation training in dentistry, we needed to get more resources into early childhood treatment and that the Government should consider introducing zero-to-six age group treatments similar to the medical side. None of those things have happened and here we are three years later.”

Dr Walsh said that some of these aspects have been promised in the long-awaited new Dental Act but that he, like the profession as a whole, is not holding his breath that it will be introduced any time soon. He said: “The new Dental Act needs to be fast-forwarded, because it is significantly disadvantaging Irish graduates at the moment. Irish graduates who go to the UK are finding it very difficult getting onto foundation training programmes. And, as a result, they are finding it very difficult to get jobs. In addition, if you want to go down the academic route in the UK, you must have had a year of foundation training. So, young Irish dentists are being seriously disadvantaged because of all this.”

While he remains optimistic that the new act, when it finally comes to pass, will meet these needs, he shares the profession’s frustration on the matter. He said: “Changes in government haven’t helped but I think everybody that’s involved in dentistry knows what should be in the new Dental Act and, maybe it is my simplistic nature, but I cannot understand why the people responsible cannot make that happen.

“I think, as usual, dentistry is a low priority item. There aren’t a lot of votes in dentistry and I think if there were a lot of votes then you would have seen this happening by now. But, maybe that is me being cynical.”

Cynicism aside, Dr Walsh is delighted to be leaving his role with a hugely successful ASM behind him. He said: “While it was just luck, or serendipity, that made the ASM come about the way it did, I have to say a big thank you to the fantastic team at the RCSI – not least Sean Malone as scientific director for example. Everybody that has been involved has given everything for this meeting to be the success that it is.

“We are also really grateful to the American Academy of Paediatric Dentistry. They have more than 4,500 members, so for them to use their marketing skills for this, was just astounding to see.”


As well as being the outgoing Dean of the Faculty of Dentistry, RCSI, Dr Walsh is a specialist in both paediatric dentistry and orthodontics. He is a past president of the Metropolitan Branch of the Irish Dental Association (IDA) and has served on both the Dental Council and the Council of the IDA.

A native of Dublin, Dr Walsh is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin, as well as the pedodontic programme at Indiana and the orthodontic programme at Seattle. He was the first European to successfully complete the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry in 1989. Dr Walsh holds a Fellowship from RCSI, as well as Fellowship of the International College of Dentists and the American College of Dentists.

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Published: 19 December, 2016 at 09:06
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