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A gathering of international proportions

Arthur H. Merritt Lectureship Reception

Dr. Maurice A. Salama, the 2011 Arthur H. Merritt Lectureship
speaker (right) greets Dr. Gil Triplett, Regents Professor in oral & maxillofacial surgery, during the Aug. 12 reception.

Photos by Steven Doll

Multi-centered study strengthens periodontics department’s global ties during August research meeting, symposium

Every year in early August, the periodontics department at Texas A&M Health Science Center Baylor College of Dentistry becomes an epicenter of bustling activity. The four days of events starts off with a small group but doesn’t stay that way for long.

First, there’s the clinical research meeting Wednesday and part of Thursday, exclusive to 30 periodontal faculty members spanning five universities and three countries. These include TAMHSC-BCD, Universidad de Panamá in Panama City and three schools in Mexico — Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León in Monterrey, Universidad Quetzalcoatl Irapuato in Irapuato and Universidad de Guadalajara — which work together through an international affiliation agreement.

By the time the International Periodontics Symposium kicks off Thursday afternoon, residents enter the mix.

“By this point, the group has grown to 95,” Dr. Jeff Rossmann, professor and chair of periodontics, says of the symposium, a mainstay at the dental school for the past 15 years.

That afternoon through Friday morning, participants will watch residents give presentations, and then they’ll get a chance to meet the Saturday lectureship speaker. This year’s lectureship featured Dr. Maurice A. Salama, a content provider for dental education website www.DentalXP.com, who is a faculty member at University of Pennsylvania and Medical College of Georgia and a visiting professor at Nova Southeastern University in Florida.

“We bring the speaker in early so he can interact with residents,” Rossmann adds.

By Friday evening, the group swells to more than 150 attendees during the week’s prime social engagement, a reception at the Dallas Petroleum Club to which TAMHSC-BCD periodontics alumni also are invited. The special events culminate on Saturday with the Arthur H. Merritt Memorial Lecture, which is now in its 40th year and is the college’s longest-running lectureship. Nearly 250 attendees from around the world, including members of the Southwest Society of Periodontists, flock to see the speaker, always among the year’s “who’s who” in the profession.

A new approach to a widely-discussed issue

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the week is how TAMHSC-BCD’s faculty and alumni have fostered this international relationship. The Fifth International Clinical Research Meeting Aug. 10-11 was unique in more ways than one.

“The different schools decided that they wanted to have a multi-centered study on pre-term delivery, low birth weight and periodontal disease,” says Dr. Francisco Rivera-Hidalgo, professor in periodontics who also is director of the symposium and faculty clinical research program.

Investigating whether periodontal disease is a factor in pre-term labor and low birth weight is a controversial topic, Rivera says, but the mere fact they’re exploring this subject as a group is a testament to the growing cohesiveness among the five universities. In fact, it’s the first time they’re taking on a multi-centered study.

“We’ve never put together a joint effort where all the schools were participating,” Rossmann says of the study, which he estimates will conclude in approximately two years.

Arthur H. Merritt Lectureship
The week's events culminated with the 40th Annual Arthur H. Merritt
Lectureship on Aug. 13. Among the
ranks of TAMHSC-BCD alumni who
have spoken in the
past include Drs. Jay Seibert '61; William Becker '66;
Terry Rees, '68 TAMHSC-BCD director of stomatology; and

Edward Allen '72.

The endeavor carries with it a special set of challenges including standardizing research methods. Dr. Celeste Abraham, associate professor in periodontics, addressed this issue with calibration sessions — also a first for the international research meeting — so faculty could agree on the measurement systems they’ll use for the project. The rest of the meeting was spent reviewing the topic proposal and discussing each dental school’s research approach.

A growing relationship

Before now, the affiliation among the five dental schools was limited to the annual research meeting, symposium and lectureship — always hosted by TAMHSC-BCD’s periodontics department — as well as periodic visits to the universities. A three-week fellowship opportunity at TAMHSC-BCD for residents from the affiliated schools has been a highlight since 1997.

The new research endeavor builds on an affiliation that dates back more than 20 years, when one of the college’s former periodontics residents, Dr. Manuel de la Rosa ’68, became a professor and chairman at Nuevo León. During his tenure, he set up an international affiliation agreement with TAMHSC-BCD, which facilitates the clinical research meeting and fellowship.

The relationship has grown to encompass three more schools across Central America. This year, four fellows from Nuevo León and two fellows from Guadalajara arrived at the college in late July and were joined by their peers a few weeks later for the research meeting and symposium.

For many of the faculty members, it will be another year before they see their long-distance colleagues, but they’ll likely be in touch before then as the multi-centered study commences.

Arthur H. Merritt Lectureship

Attendees listen to Salama's topic for the lectureship, which was
titled "Treatment
Planning 2011 and Beyond: Choices, Options
and Solutions for Complex Esthetic Challenges."

It’s an initiative for which Rossmann has high expectations, based on how the schools — a mixture of public and privately funded institutions — have reached an optimum level of cooperation. That, coupled with the noticeable quality improvements among residents’ symposium case presentations, gives the periodontics department full faith in this international effort.

“We hope this study looking at hundreds of women at risk over several locations throughout Mexico and Panama will add to the scientific evidence in support of therapy during their pregnancies,” says Rossmann.

Rivera echoes that sentiment.

“The findings from such a study would not only be highly significant to mothers in those countries, but would also have implications for expecting mothers everywhere,” Rivera says.