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Today's dental students, tomorrow's policy makers

Published on Monday, March 16, 2015

By: Ruth Cummins at (601) 984-1104 or

Published in News Stories on March 16, 2015

When students graduate from the University of Mississippi School of Dentistry, a national organization stands ready to watch out for their best interests and keep them abreast of policy issues that impact their profession.

However, SOD students don't have to wait until they're practicing to learn about the American Dental Association. The group's president-elect, Dr. Carol Gomez Summerhayes, visited the UMMC campus March 3 to network with students and faculty. Summerhayes and other ADA representatives answered their questions and concerns about a profession that the ADA, in a 2013 report, says is in the midst of a radical transition.

"We're trying to find the answers on how we can be more engaging with your generation," Summerhayes, a dentist in San Diego, told a small group of dental students taking part in a town hall luncheon meeting with faculty and SOD administrators. "You're coming out at a time of change, and you have the opportunity to create it."

Summerhayes and ADA officials are making regional visits to dental schools, with Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia being part of Summerhayes' schedule. They're touting benefits of ADA membership and encouraging students to understand and take an active role in issues affecting their profession.

Summerhayes told the students, all members of the ADA offshoot American Student Dental Association, that even though they're still in school, they are legitimate voices in policy debates on issues affecting the profession. Those national issues include the rising cost of dental education, financial barriers to dental care, and the debate over allowing dental hygienists to have their own practices.

"It's about protecting your future, your licenses, your diplomas," Summerhayes said.

ASDA members can have power, she said. "When they step up to the microphone, there's a hush," she said of previous testimony by dental students on national dental issues. "Whatever you have to say carries a lot more clout. You don't realize how much we want to hear from you."

Students including Stephanie Rizzuto of Brookhaven embraced Summerhayes' message.

"When I found out how much policy affected my profession, I thought, 'I'm going to get involved,' " said Rizzuto, in her second year. "I just thought it was about unlocking my door every day to treat patients. It's not just about the skills we use every day."

Joining the ADA, which counts 157,000-plus dentists as members, will be a boon to students as they embark on dental careers, said Austin Holmes, a third-year SOD student from Meridian.

"Getting involved in the ADA will be a natural process for us in this room to know what we're facing in the future," Holmes told Summerhayes. "It's important for us to be involved, and important for you all to come here."

Technology changes on the horizon for ADA members include a new cellphone app, Summerhayes said. "We're trying to raise the bar for ourselves," she said.

"We're trying to find new ways to communicate, and to get your voices in the ADA," she said. "It's a new ADA, where we're trying to adapt and learn how to be successful."