“The ADA is Your Family and it Has Your Back”
Dr. César R. Sabatés has two great loves. His family, including a new passion for his recently born first grandson Bruce, whom he adores. And dentistry. And, as the 158th President of the American Dental Association, he wants you to know that the ADA is part of your family too, no matter who you are or how you are. Why? Because that is precisely what ADA has been for him throughout his life.
Reaching the top in your field is never easy, more so coming from a first generation immigrant family background as in Sabatés' case. It’s a process in which many change their principles and even their character. Fortunately for the dental profession, Sabatés has adhered throughout his life to values such as love and respect for family and for others, traditional in Hispanic culture.
At a time of great political divisions in the United States, the ADA is a very lucky dental organization to have as President a son of immigrants who knows how it really feels to be an outsider, who has climbed the professional ladder with the help of many, and who knows very well that now is his turn to make all dentists “feel that the ADA is part of their family.”
I think he’s uniquely qualified to lead ADA because he is committed to listening to what he calls a “diversity of thought”, because he acknowledges that a lot of people helped him along the way in his long journey, and because, as a result, he’s really happy with his life, his family and his career. And now he’s ready to give back.
That journey started in Camaguey, Cuba, where he was born 61 years ago and where his father was a well regarded dentist. After the 1959 Cuban Revolution, the family was not allowed to leave for the United States until 1967. In the US, the Sabatés landed in Florida. César studied Electrical Engineering at the University of Miami, but soon after he decided he wanted to be a dentist and enrolled in dental school at University of Missouri in Kansas City, from where he graduated as Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS).
Some time later he moved back to Miami and opened his private practice, which he built little by little, with the help of mentors such as the dentist and art collector Dr. Arturo Mosquera. He joined Hispanic dental organizations such as the American Brotherhood of Latin American Dentists and the Latin American Academy of Osseointegrated Dental Implants. He was elected President of the Florida Dental Association, then member of the ADA House of Delegates, and later on member of the ADA Board of Trustees, before he ran for President.
During our conversation, he emphasized repeatedly that, beyond all our differences, what all of us have in common is dentistry. He knows this well because, as he told me, “I fell in love with the profession in dental school, and I have been in love with the profession since then.”
“My goal is to make everyone feel welcome at the ADA.”
In the following interview, you can feel Dr. Sabatés genuine love for dentistry in his meaningful answers to my questions, which are far apart from the usual runaround you get from elected leaders in all walks of life, from politics to dentistry.
Javier de Pisón: One of your main priorities as ADA President is to make sure everybody feels welcome in the association. How are you going to accomplish that?
César Sabatés: I want to make sure every dentist knows, that no matter what color or nationality they represent, that they are dentists first, and that is what unites us. And I want them to feel that the ADA is part of their family, as it has been part of my family for most of my life. Caring is very important to me. I believe it’s part of my Hispanic culture to make people feel welcome, and I take great pride on that.
I’ve already started working on that as President-elect, meeting with all the Presidents from the different state dental associations. I started with a platform of welcoming, inviting them to give their opinions and thoughts, so everyone would feel that they are valued and respected. And that is very important to me, the diversity of thought, not only the diversity of culture, but the diversity of thought. I think that it make us better dentists and dental associations. That is something I started encouraging and I will continue to do throughout my presidency, and hopefully will be able to get people closer together.
Javier de Pisón: What do ADA members need at this moment?
César Sabatés: To be quite honest with you, dentists need to know that there is someone out there for them. COVID-19, as you know, isolated all of us, some of us were quarantined, and we were not able to see our families or friends. So what dentists need is someone to lean on, someone to be the guide for them, to know everything is going to be okay and that we have ways to practice safely. If they need a resource for information, if they need a kind word, a shoulder to cry, they have to know that they can reach out to us, that we have each other to get through these difficult times.
One of the things that COVID-19 demonstrated to us is that there are lot of people that have mental health and wellness issues, so this is a time for us to shine a bright light on these issues, come together as a family, and help each other out. The ADA has put forth resources for wellness issues, resources to get your practice back in order, guidelines for financing, guidelines for safety for our patients, all of which is on the ADA website for all of our members to see.
Javier de Pisón: Is the main concept you want to convey what you had mentioned previously to me, that ADA has your back?
César Sabatés: It’s one of them. Really, one of the things I want to stress is that we are one family, we are a dental family. And since we are a family, we have each other’s backs.
Javier de Pisón: How do you describe your love for dentistry?
César Sabatés: When I enrolled in dental school I fell in love with the profession, and I have been in love with the profession ever since then. I guess it was in my destiny to become a dentist.
Dentistry fulfills so many spaces. It allows me to be creative and innovative, to connect with other human beings, and change their lives for the better. It allows me to go to my community and help the less fortunate, to remove their pain and bring them happiness. I don’t know how else to describe it. For me it’s passion, not work. It’s a labor of love. If I didn’t have to pay my bills and support my family, I would do it for free. It is so rewarding to me.
Javier de Pisón: For dentistry to be considered as essential health care, should dentists encourage patients to get tested for diabetes quit smoking, get vaccinated for flu and COVID?
César Sabatés: Yes. That is something we have the opportunity to do every day, through education. I can’t tell you the number of patients I have helped quit smoking, the number of patients in which I have seen initial signs in their gingival tissues that alerted me to the possibility that it might be diabetes and referred them to a physician for care.
Dentists not only treat cavities, but rather the entire patient, and we have to be more involved with patients’ well-being and provide screening tests for them. We can check their blood pressure, the sugar levels in the office with a simple finger prick test, and screen for early diabetes. We can encourage them to receive all the immunizations they need and explain their importance. There is a lot of misinformation out there. We have patients in our chair for quite a bit of time, and we have a chance to talk to and educate them. It is an extremely important role that we have.
Javier de Pisón: Is there a guide on general health for dentists to check with their patients?
César Sabatés: The ADA has a lot of resources available to dentists to help provide optimal health for their patients that can be downloaded from the ADA website. One of the things I would like to work on during my presidency is that in the past the role of dentists hasn’t been highlighted as essential as it should be among the medical community. I am going to be promoting interprofessional relations with physicians, so they are also educated on what we do, and how we can collaborate on the well-being of our patients.
“I fell in love with the profession in dental school, and I have been in love with the profession ever since then.”
Javier de Pisón: Do you mean establishing relationships with medical associations and referring more patients to physicians?
César Sabatés: One of the active coalitions we have currently at ADA is with Emergency Room Physicians. We are helping them learn the role of the dentistry and how to refer dental patients to us, saving them a lot of time and money. Unless there is a facial trauma, emergency physicians can only prescribe antibiotics or pain medication. We are trying to create a referral list, so when a dental patient presents to the ER, instead of treating them, they can refer them to a dentist in their community who knows how to treat dental emergencies.
Javier de Pisón: How aware are dentist of the ethics they should uphold?
César Sabatés: The Code of Ethics is one of the cornerstones of the ADA, along with the ADA core values. The ADA has seven core values: integrity, excellence, commitment to improve oral health, to evidence-based science, commitment to our members, and to diversity and inclusion. The code of ethics is extremely important for our profession, and most ADA members are very familiar with our five main principles: patient autonomy, nonmaleficence, beneficence, justice and veracity.
Javier de Pisón: Talking about ethical issues, how do you decide what to do when someone in your staff doesn’t want to be vaccinated against COVID-19?
César Sabatés: The ADA is behind vaccination. We believe it’s the safest way to prevent the spread of this disease. The term “beneficence” in the Code of Ethics means that we must act in the best interest or benefit for our patients, so the ADA encourages all dentists to get vaccinated and the members of their teams to do the same. We do that because the ADA is following CDC vaccination guidelines, and we urge all dental societies and practices to consider these public health strategies available to them to reduce their exposure.
“The diversity of thought is very important to me. I think it makes us better dentists and better dental associations.”
Dentists have been dealing with viral and bacterial infections for many years, and we have demonstrated that we know how to handle safety protocols, and keep both patients and staff safe. And recent studies published in JADA have shown that we have a much lower incidence of COVID-19 in dental offices than our medical colleagues.
Javier de Pisón: What was your main accomplishment as President of the Florida Dental Association?
César Sabatés: One of the things I am most proud of during my time as President of the Florida Dental Association is that we put out a White Paper on access to care in the State of Florida, where we outlined for the government necessary steps to increase access to care to all Floridians. I mentioned there that the things that unite us by far outweigh those than divide us. In Florida, even in Miami, we have many different dental organizations, Nicaraguan, Peruvian, Colombian, and I tried to meet with them and work as one voice, the voice of dentistry, the voice of the ADA.
I agree with doctor Chad Gehani (former ADA President), who is one of my mentors, that we have to speak with one voice, and I have been doing that for many years. The other thing I did was to ask Presidents from different diverse dental organizations in Florida to meet with me at the FDA Annual Meeting in Orlando, and we had a pretty decent turn out. We discussed racial and other issues, which have a tendency to divide us. And we pushed that forward in the State. Inclusion has always been a passion of mine.
“Dentistry allows me to be creative and innovative, to change their lives for the better.”
As a Cuban coming to this country, at first I felt very unwelcomed and different, but there was always people who reached out to me and helped guide me. I am grateful to all those people and I try to pay it forward. That’s why I mentioned earlier that my goal is to make everyone feel welcome at ADA.
Javier de Pisón: What do you bring to the table as the first Hispanic President of ADA?
César Sabatés: As the first Cuban-American President of ADA, I hope that I would be able to inspire Hispanic students to become dentists and leaders in their communities. Diversity of thought is something that is very important to me. And as I told you, dentistry is one of the loves of my life, and I have a great passion for serving the profession and underserved communities.
- Installation: Dr. César Sabatés will be installed as the 158th President of the American Dental Association on October 16th, in Las Vegas, at the ADA’s House of Delegates Meeting.
- ADA Annual Meeting: reimagined and rebranded as SmileCon, it will be held in Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on October 11-13. If you cannot travel, try the online congress SmileCon Virtual.
- ADA Membership: to become a member click here or visit ADA for more information.
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