Swords Orthodontics
17 Main St, Swords, Co Dublin, Ireland

Address to the Dental Graduates of 2018, Trinity College Dublin

As current president of the Orthodontic Society of Ireland, I have been asked to present prizes at Dublin Dental University Hospital twice - 2017 and 2018. This year, I presented an award to Sarah O'Connor, who graduated with the best orthodontic performance in Dental Technology, and Caoimhe McKenna, who graduated with the best orthodontic marks in Dental Science.

This is my 2018 address to the graduating class, although it could apply to almost any year and any profession.

Be sure to wear sunscreen.

I still do.

Congratulations. Well done.

I’m Stephen Murray, the president of the Orthodontic Society of Ireland. At the moment, there are only two recognised dental specialties, orthodontics and oral surgery. I don’t think the oral surgeons give a speech this evening, and although I have an ancestor who took out Napoleon’s wisdom tooth, I can’t speak on behalf of them, so I’m the token specialist here.

 Five years of blood, sweat and tears have brought you to this place and this is your day. Maybe the group standing here now isn’t the same group that came in here five years ago, some have left and some have joined along the way, but you are the people here now, so revel in it. It’s probably the last time you will ever all be in this place again so enjoy this moment, an axis in time between all that ever was and ever will be.

Tomorrow you will graduate. I expect your graduation will be significantly different to mine. At my graduation, half the class were wondering if they should sit down through the national anthem as some form of protest. For their troubles they emerged from the graduation hall and were treated to a performance from the band of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. These guys would arrive in an armour-plated bus, probably with a couple of armoured cars as escort and men with machine guns looking after them as they played a medley of Beatles tunes while we had our strawberries and cream and took photos.

The other thing that will probably be different about our graduation and yours is that by the time we got our certificates about half the class had no particular enthusiasm to speak to the other half. There were no class reunions. Which is sad, because dentistry is a great profession, but on a day-to-day basis it can be very solitary and isolating and really it’s dentists that best understand dentists. That’s why a quarter of my class ended up marrying each other. Whether they’re still on speaking terms is probably best not to enquire about but my abiding message here is find fellowship wherever you can. Any world that you’re welcome to is better than the world where I came from.

At the other end of my undergraduate career, I remember when I started in Dental School we were advised that dentistry wouldn’t be changing much over our careers because human anatomy and dental anatomy hadn’t changed in centuries, the basic materials that we were likely to be using had all been invented and the new frontiers in dentistry would be pharmacological, specifically pain management.

Standing here now, that’s just nonsense.

Now it’s true that teeth haven’t changed shape much for a long time. I was in the Red Cross museum in Geneva and there is Napoleonic War era instruments in a display case there – probably the same extraction forceps as my great-great-whatever-uncle used on Napoleon – and you could use them today.

But the other stuff....

The changes in technology weren’t imaginable to us. Ten years ago, I was told I wouldn’t be taking alginate impressions by the time I retired. Some of you probably won’t be taking alginate impressions by the end of this year. The changes in demographics – the ageing population, the ethnic mix of the population, the changing gender mix of the profession, most of us didn’t see that coming. The new frontier in pharmacology, for the prescribers at least, will probably be dealing with antibiotic resistance.

The class I started dental school with wasn’t the one that I finished with and they actually did have class reunions. By the time they had their 20th anniversary the prettiest girl in the class was dead 10 years, and 4 years later I would be loading my best friend into a hearse.

Most of you will survive to lead long lives; some of you will still be practising 50 years from now. The last child patients you treat will be living into the end of the 22nd century. Can you imagine what changes they will see in their lives? I don’t think we can imagine that, we just don’t have the points of reference for what their lives will be like.

The one thing that is certain over your careers is change, and given enough time, probably not changes that many people saw coming even when the signs are there.

Really the only way you can prepare for change is continually educate yourselves. Arm yourself with knowledge to face the changes that creep up on you and the ones that meet you head on. I don’t know what the future holds for the idea of dental specialties, maybe the profession will not pursue them further, but take as much postgraduate education as you can and don’t stop.

So enjoy this night, enjoy your graduation tomorrow, enjoy your lives and enjoy being dentists.

Thank you and good night.

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