February 2009
Volume 5, Issue 2

A Look at the FDI World Dental Federation—Leading the World to Optimal Oral Health

Allison M. DiMatteo, BA, MPS

Dentists who are members of the American Dental Association (ADA) have, through that membership, an inherent association with the international FDI World Dental Federation. As one of the oldest international professional organizations in the world, the FDI World Dental Federation was originally established in 1900 in Paris, France, as the Fédération Dentaire Internationale by Dr. Charles Godon from the École Dentaire de Paris and five other dentists. Today, the FDI seeks to continue the advancement and promotion of ethics, art, and science in the practice of dentistry in order to fulfill its vision of “leading the world to optimal oral health.”

“We’ll have our 100th Congress in the year 2012,” announces Burton Conrod, DDS, president of the FDI World Dental Federation. “We’ve grown significantly in recent years to the point that the FDI now represents 1 million dentists worldwide.”

According to Conrod, the organization’s focus is public health and promoting the idea that optimal oral health is a basic human right for everyone, not something that should be just a privilege or a luxury for a few people.

“We know that oral health is a very critical part of general health, and we believe it’s a basic human right,” says Conrod of the FDI’s perspective. “So, for the work that we’re doing in every country, whether it be an underserved area in the United States for which we’re trying to think of solutions and help the ADA promote access to care, or an African country such as Rwanda, where each dentist is trying to provide care for several hundred thousand members of the public, the vision is the same.”

Dr. David Alexander, a diplomate of the American Board of Dental Public Health, who is now approximately 6 months into his appointment as the new FDI executive director, explains that as an association member of the FDI, the ADA’s contribution to the FDI’s mission includes scientific and technical expertise that is shared with dental associations around the world that may not be fortunate enough to have the size of membership or resources as has the ADA. Within the context of the FDI organization, members and staff of the ADA therefore play a role by making a contribution to improving oral health worldwide, often in countries that the ADA itself may not be able to reach, he emphasizes.

Conrod notes that the FDI’s biggest successes in recent years have been convincing many governments around the world that they need to add oral health to their healthcare agenda. He says that the FDI has made tremendous in-roads in terms of convincing government health ministries about the associations between oral disease and general health. A result of those efforts has been some governments setting aside even a small budget for oral health in order to appoint their first chief dental officer, or to have a national oral health policy that says that prevention comes first.

When Alexander joined the FDI last year, he believed that, as a public health dentist, there would be no better opportunity in the world than to work in a leadership role with an organization that is a federation of 135 national dental associations and 60 other special interest groups. In his position as executive director, he works to help guide and lead the organization toward making a difference in people’s lives by improving oral health—through advocacy for health policy, health promotion programs, and improving access to care. The FDI is governed by a Council elected by a General Assembly that is composed of delegates from its member associations, among which the ADA is one of the largest and thus most influential, he says.

“With graduate dental education from the United Kingdom and the United States, I’ve seen public health from both sides of the Atlantic,” explains Alexander. “In my last position, which was in the pharmaceutical industry, I obviously saw dentistry and oral health on a global scale, so I’ve had a lot of experience in many different countries around the world, looking at oral health problems and trying to find realistic solutions. With the FDI, I can try and apply the might of the dental profession to improving oral health and people’s quality of life.”

Conrod, who was previously president of the Canadian Dental Association in 2000 and a delegate to the FDI General Assembly at that time, has been serving his two-year term as president of the FDI World Dental Federation since September 2007. During his tenure, a number of exciting projects have been initiated and approved, including planning a large Regional Congress in Africa; conducting a major regional meeting of researchers, educators, practitioners, and leaders of national dental associations in Latin America to address professional and public health issues of the burden of dental caries; and moving the organization’s headquarters from Ferney-Voltaire, France, across the border to Geneva, Switzerland, in order to provide a more favorable business environment for the FDI’s charitable component.

Education and Communication

The FDI’s Annual World Dental Congress (see next page), which is held in a different city each year, represents a significant opportunity for the advancement of dentistry, being recognized internationally as an important educational event. “FDI is a major contributor to continuing education, and we have major annual congresses through which we make available world-class speakers, as well as scientific publications that share the research endeavors from many leading clinicians whose work originated outside of the United States,” Alexander says. “There is much that we can do by sharing knowledge and science at the level of the general practitioner in order to improve the quality of their practice and, ultimately, the oral health of their patients. At our last congress in Stockholm, we had more than 180 speakers from all over the world presenting ADA-CERP accredited programs.”

The FDI’s premier publication—the International Dental Journal—is published six times a year and includes peer-reviewed, scientific articles relevant to international oral health issues, as well as news and views from the global dental community. It has been the FDI’s flagship publication for more than 50 years. Other FDI publications that are available to all members include Developing Dentistry, a biannual journal that provides a forward-looking approach to dental development, while provoking discussions and debates with papers from around the world; FDI Worldental Communiqué, a newsletter published six times a year with updates about the organization; and the organization’s Annual Report that highlights recent achievements and the outlook for the future.

“The message from FDI is that we want to help all the national associations enhance the ability of their members to provide better care to the public. We do that by reminding them that they are an integral part of healthcare, and that we can’t just treat the mouth as an isolated part of the body,” Conrod says. “We always want to remind dentists that they’re actually dealing with health, whether they enter into tobacco cessation counseling, talk about proper diet, educate patients about the use of fluoride—whether it be in water or toothpaste, or explain the risk factors for oral cancer. Even though there are pressing needs for restorative or cosmetic work, dentists are first and foremost healthcare providers.”

Policy and Oral Health Advocacy

The FDI is a nongovernmental organization affiliated with the United Nations (UN) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Through its registered charity, FDI World Dental Education, the FDI advances education in the science and practice of dentistry and providing the best possible care in order to achieve and maintain oral health among the public worldwide.

“Every dentist entered their career because they wanted to help people, and FDI is all about helping people and those much less fortunate than ourselves. When we assume that a toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste should be available for everybody, in many parts of the world, they’re not,” Alexander observes. “Our partnerships, especially public-private partnerships with other organizations, like the WHO, governments, dental associations, and industry, enable the FDI to achieve a lot for very little added effort in order to make a huge difference in the lives of other people who are suffering devastating consequences from the lack of oral health.”

According to Alexander, the ADA, as a member association of FDI, is one of the most significant and influential members in terms of contributing to the formation of the organization’s policy statements. Last year, for example, the FDI created major policy statements on fluorides, oral cancer, sugar substitutes, quality of dental implants, sports mouth guards, and clinical trials for restorative materials, each of which are used by member associations in the context of promoting oral health policy and improving health.

“The vision is very clear: leading the world to optimal oral health. The one million dentists, through our 135 member associations, are well-aligned with this vision. Our goals are helping our member dental associations to advocate for oral health,” Alexander emphasizes. “At times, FDI member associations don’t have the ability or capacity to do that for themselves, so oral health advocacy is terribly important.”

Opportunities to Make a Difference

Five standing committees of volunteers are responsible for addressing such issues as dental practice, education, science, communication and member support, and world dental development and health promotion. Conrod notes that at every level, most of the dentists he’s met have been willing to become involved with the programs and efforts undertaken by the FDI World Dental Federation, and he encourages ADA member dentists to continue offering their support and spirit of volunteerism. While he admits that there are not enough committee positions for everybody, there is more than sufficient work to be done.

“There is certainly a lot of work and we need many people to help, whether we’re looking for people to review papers or work on task teams. Every dentist has the knowledge and commitment and can make a difference,” Conrod observes. “We’re facing the same challenges. What’s different is that we propose different solutions. Involvement with FDI provides a nice networking opportunity for exploring solutions, learning something new, and benefiting from or contributing to a solution in another part of the world. That’s really what makes the profession, and that’s really what has driven oral healthcare forward.”

The 2009 FDI Annual World Dental Congress

The FDI Annual World Dental Congress, which will be held in Singapore in collaboration with the Singapore Dental Association from September 2–5, is among the biggest international dental events. It will afford all members—including those from the United States through the ADA—the opportunity to explore state-of-the-art equipment and technology, attend world-class educational programs, and interact with representatives from FDI member associations from across the globe.

In particular, the 2009 FDI Annual World Dental Congress Scientific Program—the theme of which is “Advancing Dentistry at the Crossroads of the World”—includes more than 15 noteworthy speakers from the United States. Covering topics ranging from endodontics to implant surgery, and from practice management to treating patients with special needs (eg, children and aging populations), speakers from the United States include Drs. James Gutman, James Ruskin, Virginia Moore, Ray Williams, Roy Page, David Wong, and many others.

“The FDI takes world-class continuing education to different parts of the world and also to where the original dental education may not be anywhere near to the standard that it is here the United States,” Alexander says. “So, FDI is improving the dental delivery system in many parts of the world, which is leading to safer and more effective care and touching the lives of millions of people.”

Additionally, the FDI World Dental Exhibition will offer attendees a unique opportunity to meet representatives from leading product and equipment manufacturers. Also on hand will be suppliers and dealers from the international and regional dental trade and industry.

Conclusion

“As innovative technologies and economics of healthcare (eg, CAD/CAM fabrication of prosthetic devices, online continuing education, virtual dental schools, health tourism, and healthcare professional migration) are knocking down barriers between countries, participating in the global forum for both dentistry and the dental profession, which FDI uniquely provides, gives American dentists connectivity to issues originating elsewhere in the world but which are surely going to arrive in the local dental office,” Alexander advises.“Few individual dentists understand the value of FDI membership, but without that membership, global events will surely bring unexpected changes. As the voice of global dentistry, FDI and its members together can help shape the future of our global profession.”

FDI World Dental Federation At-A-Glance

Vision

  • Leading the world to optimal oral health

Missions

  • To be the worldwide, authoritative, and independent voice of the dental
  • To promote optimal oral and general health for all people
  • To promote the interests of member associations and their members
  • To advance and promote the ethics, art, science, and practice of dentistry

Web site
www.fdiworldental.org

E-mail
dalexander@fdiworldental.org

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