Odontology Section: Mentorship the Path to Stimulating Our Future

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Source: Adam J. Freeman, DDS, Section Program Chair

I was thrilled when I read President Martell’s theme for the 2015 meeting, Celebrating the Forensic Science Family, and his three planks to this platform: (1) Honoring Our Mentors; (2) Learning from Each Other; and, (3) Stimulating Our Future. This year the Odontology Section will celebrate its 45th anniversary.

In the opening sentence of Dr. Martell’s Presidents message, he discusses the impact that Cyril Wecht had when he spoke to his high school class. It was also Dr. Wecht, who in 1969 approached several dentists, then members of the General Section to form the Odontology Section. The Odontology Section formalized in 1970 with Lowell Levine as the first Section Chair and Edward Woolridge its Secretary.

Since our humble beginnings in 1970, five individuals from the Odontology Section have served as AAFS Presidents. Lowell Levine served in 1980, Arthur Goldman in 1985, Homer Campbell in 1991, John McDowell in 2000, and Robert Barsley in 2012. Today the Odontology Section has a total membership of 400 individuals. Our section has played an important role in the evolution and growth of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS). The Thomas Krauss Memorial Bitemark Breakfast has become a mainstay of the AAFS Annual Meeting where 300 individuals from across many sections of the Academy attend the early morning session. The continuum of speakers over the years are diverse and represent many sections of the Academy.

Why is our history important? We cannot celebrate our family and mentorship without knowing the ancestry of our section. Many of our members have served as mentors for those of us who have come after them. My mentors have taught me that our only path forward is to reach down and help others climb the ladder of success through education and mentorship. The strata of membership within the AAFS are milestones in that success; none of us could have endured the educational path in our chosen fields of forensic science without help from others. We are only here because of those who have come before us.

The members of the Odontology Section and the American Board of Forensic Odontology (ABFO) have a long history of working with other sections. Thomas Krauss (Odontology) and William Hyzer (Engineering Sciences) working together developed the ABFO No. 2, an “L” shaped, photometric scale. The ABFO No. 2 was designed to document patterned injuries and has sold over 1,000,000 units worldwide since its inception in 1987. In 2013, the ABFO conferred upon Dr. Hyzer the Haskell Pitluck Award.

Mentorship includes the presenting of papers at our scientific session. Quality education and research is the cornerstone for the advancement of all scientific fields. It is gratifying to see that the numbers of our membership who are presenting at the Scientific Sessions is on the rise. It is organized forensic science that helps to inspire quality education and the AAFS is the backbone of organized forensics in the world. As mentors, we must stress the importance of continuing education, participation in organized forensics, and unbiased, ethical casework and research. Mark Twain once said, “Laws control the lesser man. Right conduct controls the greater.”

The creation of best practices in each area of forensics has been a crucial step forward. The ABFO has, for many years, published the Diplomates Reference Manual, which has established the standards and guidelines used in forensic odontology. Today the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) has enlisted 402 experts who will serve on 23 subcommittees of five Scientific Area Committees. Robert Barsley will Chair the Subcommittee on Forensic Odontology and nearly all of the sixteen members have some affiliation with the AAFS. Often, changes like this are met with trepidation; however, I am confident that this is a path forward to solidify the knowledge base and document it for those who will come after us. It will, in my opinion, be a living document. As science marches forward, so too will be our best practices. These best practices must be multidisciplinary and the structure that NIST has established will encourage that.

Orlando palm trees.

The Lake Eola Fountain in Orlando, FL.  Orlando is the site of the 2015 AAFS Annual Scientific Meeting.

I have been fortunate to have many mentors from each corner of the United States and internationally. Many of whom have become personal friends and part of my extended family. I look forward to seeing all of you at each of the AAFS meetings. President Martell has suggested that Thursday, February 19, be “Take Your Mentor to Lunch Day.” While I appreciate his sentiments, it would be impossible to schedule all who have played a part in my career to a common lunch. I will, however, make it a part of my every day to thank them and by my actions honor them.

The question I often get is — How do I find a mentor? The best answer is to get involved. Join the American Society of Forensic Odontology (ASFO) and AAFS. Come to the AAFS meeting, attend the Scientific Sessions as well as the ASFO meeting, and most importantly, network with those established in the field. Demonstrate your desire to be involved by being involved. One of the wonderful qualities of the Odontology Section is that many of the founding fathers of our section the ASFO and ABFO are still attending meetings today. Seek them out to gain the perspective of their nearly 50 years in the field. Lowell Levine, Richard Souviron, Robert Dorion, and Paul Stimson, all founding members of the ABFO, regularly attend the AAFS Annual Scientific Meeting. Search out Diplomates of the ABFO as they too look forward to imparting their knowledge to those who truly show and interest. Once involved you may want to advance through the hierarchy of the AAFS. From Trainee Affiliate to Fellow of the Academy, it is by meeting the educational requirements, attending annual meetings, the presentation of abstracts at scientific sessions, and dedication that will allow you to advance through the levels of organizational involvement. As you advance through the AAFS your circle of mentors will increase in numbers and expand your horizons. Eventually you may choose to become Board Certified by challenging the ABFO’s certification examination. While the requirements and testing are demanding, it is attainable.

To my many mentors, thank you for taking your time to advise, teach, and support me throughout my career. I hope to honor that mentorship by paying it forward.