A&M leadership spotlighted at SCDA meeting

June 6th, 2023

Dean Lily T. García (right) with SCDA President Dr. Leo Marchini (left)

With several faculty members in attendance, the dean serving as keynote speaker and a pediatric resident honored with a leadership award, Texas A&M School of Dentistry was well represented at the Special Care Dentistry Association’s annual meeting in April.

The SCDA is an international organization dedicated to the advancement and promotion of dental care for patients with special health care needs. Texas A&M School of Dentistry is one of only a handful of places with dentists who provide such care in the DFW area, and it plans to open a clinic specifically for this demographic later this year.

Dr. Lily T. García, dean, said she was invited to speak at the SCDA’s meeting while attending the American Dental Education Association convention in Portland, a few months prior. Two colleagues approached her with the request, though at first García said she wasn’t sure why.

“First, I questioned why they wanted a prosthodontist to speak, and then I reflected on the kinds of patients I treated over the years,” she said. “Many of them were seniors with medical conditions that ranged from complex to simple, but they still all wanted high quality care. I realized I’ve been treating unique patient populations, just not to the extent that this group traditionally manages.”

In her keynote speech, García highlighted those she’s learned from about the field of special care dentistry, including Dr. Dan Burch, clinical associate professor in pediatric dentistry and program director of the school’s special care dentistry fellowship.

“His forward thinking on building more capacity by training and educating more individuals makes him a major asset to our school,” she said. “At times taking care of patients with complex needs can be uncomfortable, so you have to learn how to manage that. We have more dentists who have greater capacity to help our community now.”

Dr. Dan Burch

During the conference, Burch was elected national vice-president of the Academy of Persons with Disabilities, one of three organizations that constitute the SCDA. The other two affiliate organizations are the American Association of Hospital Dentists and the American Society for Geriatric Dentistry.

Dr. Lianna Pulliam, a first-year pediatric resident who is studying under Burch, was presented with a student recognition award at the meeting for her role in special care dentistry.

“The award is based on leadership and special care, and a sincere interest in treating the population,” Pulliam said. “It’s an ongoing list of things that I do as far as special care is concerned.”

Her most recent work, she said, was helping the school earn the Crystal Charity Ball award – $1.6 million to help fund the special care clinic that will open on campus later this year. Pulliam said Burch’s mentorship and guidance has helped her establish herself in the field.

“Dr. Pulliam has grown tremendously since she has been within our department’s training programs,” Burch said. “She is the only chief fellow in special care dentistry in the nation, which says a lot about her commitment to this community and the school. In her role, she has led her first SCD fellow class through a year of training, assisted them in complex treatment projects and aided in the funding of the school’s new special care dentistry clinic.

“She recently presented on the development and assessment of our SCD fellowship at the annual SCDA conference and aided in the recruitment and onboarding of a new fellowship class,” he said. “She exudes the Aggie spirit in all her endeavors, and it is no wonder she was selected for her achievements in special care dentistry as a burgeoning ambassador for the field.”

Pulliam said special care dentistry has been a passion of hers for much of her career. She was inspired by a college friend’s sibling, who has special needs and struggled to find appropriate dental care.

Dr. Lianna Pulliam

“He was still being seen by his pediatric dentist as a 6-foot tall, 20-something guy,” Pulliam said. “His mom opened up to me about how there was nowhere else to take him. It piqued my interest in special care dentistry and the barriers there. It’s something that I’ve followed ever since.

“I did a research project on it in dental school and went on to the [special care dentistry] fellowship. Now I’m a pediatric dental resident because of the barriers to the specialty in caring for this population.”

After graduation, Pulliam’s goal is to join the school as a faculty member in the special care clinic. She wants to help normalize special care dentistry among the student body, so they are better prepared to aid patients in this demographic and increase access for them.

The SCDA agenda also included presentations by several other A&M School of Dentistry faculty members and students. More than 300 people attended the conference, which was held in Dallas.

— Caleb Vierkant

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