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Dillenberg on ASDA Beginnings

Dean Dillenberg reflects on ASDA beginnings

Jack Dillenberg, DDS, is no stranger to leadership in the realm of organized dentistry. His colorful resume ranges from serving as president of the American Association of Public Health Dentistry, director, of the Arizona Department of Health Services, board member of the American Association of Developmental Medicine and Dentistry, being named CEO of the Year by the American Society for Public Administration, and dean of A.T. Still University’s Arizona School of Dentistry & Oral Health (ATSU-ASDOH) — just to name a few.

Before his merits as a recognized advocate for public health leadership, a few of his buddies helped come up with the concept of the American Student Dental Association (ASDA). Dr. Dillenberg recalls that one of the prime movers, Dennis Spain, reached out to student dental leaders throughout the country. Dr. Dillenberg, Dennis Spain, Harry Martin, Bob Vogel, Frank Troxel, and Jonathan Nash, among several others, wanted to create a student dental organization that would improve diversity and the rights of students.

Dr. Dillenberg recalls that in the “old days” reciprocity was a controversial issue. “Dental students weren’t respected, they were living in fear, and taught in a way than it needed to be,” says Dr. Dillenberg. There was criticism of the variety of ability to treat certain health situations, reciprocity of dental licensure, and the respect of dental students.

Dr. Dillenberg and his colleagues went to school in a time when dental schools were controlled by traditional faculty who “didn’t understand what it was like to be a student in the 60s when there was a lot of social unrest and the peace movement.” They wanted to start a dental student organization where the rights of students were honored and addressed.

In the winter of 1970, Dr. Dillenberg recalls that the group selected Harry Martin as the first president of Student American Dental Association (now the American Student Dental Association). He and several other dental students “stayed up late writing the constitution and bylaws in a Chicago hotel room.”

Dr. Dillenberg notes some of the issues that face dentistry today include “being able to effectively influence disparities and the care we can provide as a dentist.” Others include the need to “develop diagnostic procedural codes, treatment planning, behavioral interventions, and improving overall health and wellness and not being tooth technicians.” Dr. Dillenberg’s hope is that ASDA will continue to be “bright and relevant to the needs of the profession and to be the beacon of honor to do the right things.”

As one of the co-founders of ASDA, Dr. Dillenberg is proud ASDA has emerged as an organization. “The stronger and better ASDA is, the stronger and better our dental profession will be,” he says. “Integrity, commitment, and compassion need to be the core elements that bring students to ASDA and provide the vehicle to make dentistry a better and more meaningful profession than it already is.”

ASDA has shaped Dr. Dillenberg’s career by allowing him to develop relationships among colleagues, giving him a chance to develop as an individual, providing numerous public speaking opportunities, and introducing him to process and policy within the profession. ASDA provided him with the “training wheels to develop leadership,” he says.

Dr. Dillenberg was elected class president all four years at the New York University, College of Dentistry and elected N.Y.U. student body president. After earning his masters of public health at Harvard, he received the Alumni Award of Merit for demonstrating excellence in the field of public health through community practice and leadership. Dr. Dillenberg held several other leadership roles including serving as president of ASTHO, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. In November 2011, Dr. Dillenberg delivered the key note address at the ASDA Western Regional Conference in San Antonio, Texas.

As Dr. Dillenberg reflects upon the founding of the first dental school in Arizona, he mentions the development of a new ATSU dental school in Missouri and a possible future dental school in San Diego, Calif. He quotes Albert Schweitzer and says, “Success doesn’t bring happiness, happiness brings success.” “ Do what makes you happy in your profession and you will be successful,” he says. He hopes ASDA will continue to produce leaders who make significant contributions to the health of this country.

~ Erin Aying, ATSU-ASDOH ‘14