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Interview: A kaleidoscope view of the ever-changing dental profession


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Dr. Terri Tiersky has over 30 years of experience in dentistry and currently serves as the fourth female president of the Chicago Dental Society in 2020. (Image: Terri Tiersky)

Mon. 17. February 2020


In the run-up to the 2020 Chicago Dental Society (CDS) Midwinter Meeting, Dental Tribune International had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Terri Tiersky, a long-serving dentist and this year’s president of CDS. In this interview, she talks about her experience as a female dentist, discusses some of the most significant trends in dentistry and tells readers the story behind this year’s Midwinter Meeting theme, “KALEIDOSCOPE VIEW 2020.”

Dr. Tiersky, could you please introduce yourself to our readers by telling them some details about your professional and private background?
I graduated from Loyola University Dental School in 1986. It is hard to believe that I have been practicing general dentistry for nearly 34 years! I also received a law degree from John Marshall Law School in 1991. I went to law school part time at night while practicing dentistry during the day.

As for my nonprofessional life, I have been married for almost 25 years, and I have one daughter, who is almost 20. She is a sophomore at Michigan State University, and it does not appear that she will be following in my footsteps by pursuing a career in either dentistry or law.

You have over 30 years’ experience in general dentistry. Why did you choose this profession, and do you still enjoy being a dentist after so many years?
I was a political science major at the University of Illinois. I had my sights clearly set on law school. However, during the second semester of my junior year, I decided to switch to pre-dentistry and have never looked back. My decision was based in part on my wanting to be my own boss and thereby being able to determine my own professional destiny. I did end up getting a law degree, but I have never for a minute regretted my decision to become a dentist first. As to whether I still enjoy being a dentist after all these years, the answer is yes. It has been very rewarding on many different levels. I have made lifelong friendships and I have had the good fortune to be involved in organized dentistry on a level that has allowed me to have a voice in the future of our profession, as with my role as president of CDS.

 “As women, it is vitally important that we keep striving to be leaders and to be a voice for our future”

The overall number of women in dentistry is rising. The American Dental Association predicts that the percentage of female dentists in the workforce will reach over 45% by 2037. Yet, the leadership of the dental profession remains largely male. You are only the fourth female president in CDS’s 155-year history. How do you assess this trend?
That is an excellent question that I have often considered. The good news is that we are finally beginning to see more women in leadership roles within the dental profession. However, it has indeed been very slow in coming! I think there are multiple factors that might explain why we haven’t seen more women leaders up to this point. One factor is the time commitment necessary to serve in a leadership capacity. Many of our younger dentists, both male and female, are facing student debt that forces them to work more, leaving less time for getting involved in organized dentistry. Couple that with having children, and it becomes even more difficult to find the time. I am the fourth female president of CDS and only the second mother.

When I first became involved some 30 years ago, I think there was the perception that women weren’t as welcome as men in “the club.” I am happy to say that I think these notions are changing, but there will always be issues that we, as women, face that our male colleagues simply don’t. Therefore, as women, it is vitally important that we keep striving to be leaders and to be a voice for our future.

“The ever-changing pattern of the kaleidoscope is not only a metaphor for the changes that our profession is witnessing”

You selected the theme of this year’s Midwinter Meeting, “KALEIDOSCOPE VIEW 2020.” What’s behind this title? What can attendees expect from it?
Given the year 2020, my first thoughts went to a theme involving vision. I did not want to be literal and use the word “vision” in the theme, as I speculated that there would be a lot of meeting themes in 2020 using the word “vision”—which has proved to be the case. So, I kept thinking.

I collect kaleidoscopes, as they are beautiful and each one is unique. Of course, they also involve vision, so I started to think about how they might represent a metaphor for our profession. Kaleidoscopes are exciting to look through. They consist of various different pieces that make up the whole symmetrical pattern. The patterns change quickly when the kaleidoscope is turned, resulting in a new unique visual. The parallels became clear to me as they related to dentistry, and I wanted to carry this through in the attendee experience at the 2020 Midwinter Meeting. The goal was to provide a diverse, unique and vibrant program for every member of the dental team—the pieces that make up the whole.

The ever-changing pattern of the kaleidoscope is not only a metaphor for the changes that our profession is witnessing; it also offers an exciting and ever-changing view of the profession with some of the new things that we are offering for our meeting in 2020. For the first time, we are offering a wide array of shorter classes, allowing our attendees to receive continuing education credits in many different subject areas. We have also instituted an exciting and unique pricing structure for our lectures. For those who registered before Feb. 1, our lectures were all either free or cost only $20.

As in previous years, our exhibit hall will once again be filled with more than 650 exhibitors, many of whom will be unveiling new products and technologies. This vibrancy will be carried through in our wide range of exciting social events.

The CDS Midwinter Meeting is one of the largest dental exhibitions in North America. What are the most significant trends in the profession and industry that the 2020 edition of the conference will be covering?
I am very proud of the program that we have planned for 2020—it will, essentially, cover every topic imaginable for every member of the dental team. For example, we will host an oral cancer symposium to address the increasing oral cancer incidence. We will also present live patient demonstrations, daily track classes on business, health and wellness, and implants, as well as a myriad of other lectures and hands-on workshops to help our attendees stay current on technology and advancements in the profession.

Undoubtedly, the growth of dental service organizations is a trend worldwide and in North America in particular. Will they continue to dominate the industry?
I dare say that this is a trend that will continue its pattern of growth. I mentioned student debt earlier in the conversation, and I once again come back to that. I think that the amount of debt that many of our young dentists are faced with upon graduation limits and dictates their choices. It is hard to start a private practice and take on more debt. The dental service organizations offer income and benefits packages that are very attractive. I think that small private practices, much like mine, will eventually be few and far between.

“Dentists who have been practicing for several years often resist change”

Another big trend is digitalization. However, many dentists—at least in Europe—remain skeptical of the growing digitalization of their professional environment. What is the current situation in North America, and how is CDS addressing this trend?
I think that, as the older generations of dentists retire, there will be an obvious transition to digitalization. More of these various technologies are being taught in our dental schools and will be considered the norm. Dentists who have been practicing for several years often resist change. This can be based on several factors. The cost involved in switching to digitalization in whatever form can be prohibitively expensive. This, coupled with the education needed to support the change, may be viewed as overwhelming. That is not to say that all dentists are resistant to change, as I do not feel that this is the case. As for how CDS is addressing the trend, we are doing so in the same manner that we do with any other trend or topic. We try to offer as much information to our members as possible so that they can become educated and thereafter make the best possible decisions regarding what is right for their practice.

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