Nanette Tertel, DDS, chair of learning for SmileCon 2023, talks about new trends that are reigniting dental conferences after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Q: What is the impact that the COVID-19 crisis had on our shows?
A: It’s been a rough few years for the dental industry all around! Not only did the pandemic alter our patient care, but it also changed how continuing education is delivered. While online courses existed prior to COVID-19, we all became much more comfortable with technology due to the inability to meet in person. The decision meeting planners had to make to cancel in-person education was extremely difficult, but it was definitely the proper choice to maintain safety in the dental community. With that being said, I think we can all agree that nothing is better than in-person education, getting out from “behind the screen,” and meeting up with our colleagues.
Q: Have we gotten back to “normal?” And what changes have been implemented going forward?
A: I would love to say we are back to “normal,” but as we know, we now have a “new normal.” COVID-19 is still around, and the entire dental community is very aware and well-prepared to handle difficulties that present within our practices. Providing continuing education has had its own unique challenges. It’s been fantastic to see the return of in-person education. Last year in Houston, at SmileCon 2022, the excitement of in-person education was present, but you could almost feel the buzz in the air due to meeting with your colleagues in person; enjoying face-to-face discussions with educators and exhibitors; and, after a couple of stressful years in our profession, the fact that we all needed to have some fun!
With the concerns of COVID-19 always looming, meetings have to be much more strategic in presenting education, creating unique experiences, and also maintaining the safety of all attendees. Some may think attendance at in-person meetings has been reduced since the return from COVID-19. While this is true due to many factors (hesitancy to travel, making up lost time in our offices, personal comorbidities, etc), all dental meetings saw an increase in attendance in 2022 as we got back to the new normal.
Q: Last year, SmileCon was in Houston. As you said, there was a lot of uncertainty among the meeting planners as well as the attendees. There have also been grumblings that the meetings have to change to be more effective and appealing. What does the meeting look like this year?
A: In the case of the ADA Annual Session, we had decided to reset and rebrand. The evolution of SmileCon was actually in the works before the COVID-19 pandemic. Attendees will definitely experience wider pathways in exhibit halls; larger educational rooms with distant seating; and other creative ways to continue to provide quality education, networking, and special events. Halls and pathways at all meetings may appear to have fewer attendees, and that is also part of the design to maintain safety. For example, at Street Fest at SmileCon 2022 (if you missed it, you missed the dental party of the year), the outdoor venue on La Avenida de Americas was the perfect site for multiple bands, DJs, dance floors, food trucks, beverages, crazy cars, crafts, and photo stations—and did I mention the fireworks? It was a perfect night of celebrating the bond we all have together in dentistry. If you are planning to attend SmileCon 2023 in Orlando from October 5 to October 7, expect the unexpected! Cast spells at Hogwarts! Grab your team for the second annual SmileCon celebration of dentistry! Last year was epic; this year will be amazingly epic! Be there!
Q: In the past years, many offices took their entire staff to these events. Do you find that it is not happening as much right now? Do you think that is still due to a COVID-19 fear, or maybe that offices are taking a hard look at the lower revenues that we have seen and that there is even maybe talk of a recession?
A: Yes, yes, and yes! Financial uncertainty is a definite factor, not only for the practice owner but also for all of our staffs. The workforce shortage has made daily practice life much more stressful in every area and level of dental practice. The ADA Committee of Annual Meetings, the New Dentist Committee, and the Dental Team Advisory Committee volunteers experience what every dental office is dealing with today. The realization that not all dentists and entire offices have the ability to travel for a variety of reasons, pandemic or not, is the thought origin behind the Bridge to SmileCon. The Bridge provides a year-round online educational experience for all dentists, hygienists, and teams. The classes are presented monthly and feature a speaker you will see live and in person at SmileCon 2023 in Orlando. There is no fee to participate, and each class provides CE hours when viewing live during the scheduled presentation. The classes will be recorded to be viewed on demand, followed by a test for CE credit. Anyone can attend these courses at smilecon.org.
Q: In summary, this looks like an exciting event. How do you create unique learning experiences?
A: SmileCon is focused on meet, play, and learn. As always, high-quality education from leading dental educators is a priority to the committee and our attendees. You can always expect that at SmileCon. We are learning so much differently today than we did 20 years ago. With technology, we are able to immerse ourselves in the learning process to provide a unique experience, increasing educational retention. The dark “lecture hall” of the past is no longer a creative learning environment, and SmileCon is moving forward in developing interactive and unique learning adventures!
ABOUT NANETTE TERTEL, DDS
Dr. Tertel received her DDS degree at the University of Michigan where she is a clinical instructor in the department of prosthodontics.
She is in private practice in Toledo, Ohio, and involved in the planning and execution of continuing education for multiple organizations at the state and national level. She can be reached at email@example.com.