Norma+SeanMalone0781 0130Dr Sean Malone is the current President of the Association. He talks to Paul O’Grady about his priorities in office, the forthcoming Dental Bill, and the current great strength of the IDA.

The Association’s President for 2013/14 is a man on a mission. He intends to raise the morale of the profession by communicating a very clear message: the standard of dentistry in Ireland is the best in the world. “We don’t realise, as a profession, how good we are. I see it, though, in my travels as an examiner and as a speaker. The standard of Irish dentistry is equivalent to the best in the world. Right now, when we are affected by savage cuts and by the downturn in general, we desperately need to believe in ourselves and in the power of the care that we provide for our patients,” says Sean. He points to the fact that the Irish dental profession is being sought out to educate dentists in oil-rich countries that can afford to buy the best in the world such as Kuwait. And recently, he told the Journal, an agreement has been signed for the RCSI to provide postgraduate training at New York Dental School. He said: “The best in the world are seeking us out. We should be proud of that and of our profession in Ireland.”

The Dentistry Bill
However, as hard as the President will work to drive up the morale of the membership, his time is going to be taken up to a very great extent with the new Dental Bill. And, already, that is evident. Asked about the reaction of the Association to the Department of Health’s consultation process on the Bill, he states that a great deal of work went into the preparation of the formal response. He credits the Association (and Fintan Hourihan in particular) with a comprehensive reply. The main concerns of the Association, in the first instance, are: making CPD compulsory; lifting the ban on the incorporation of dental practices; examination of dental practices to be carried out by the Dental Council; a structured pre-registration year; changes in the legislation for auxiliaries; and, changes in the make-up of the Dental Council. (A full report on the Association’s response is in the members news section of this edition of the Journal – Ed.)

Sean anticipates that the Association will succeed in much of its desires for improvements in the legislation but that it won’t be easy and full success may not be possible – even if the Association will try for all its desired improvement.

Other successes
The President notes the success that dentists have had in past legislation, citing the recent introduction of European legislation which greatly improved the regulation of tooth whitening. However, he is adamant that illegal tooth whitening is happening here in Ireland (a fact backed up by recent reports in the Journal) and would like to see the relevant body – the Irish Medicines Board – take action. He notes that a criminal action was taken against a provider of illegal tooth whitening in the United Kingdom recently and would like a similar robust approach taken to offenders in Ireland.

Another strong initiative by the Association was its action in relation to the move by Revenue against the status of associates in practices. As result of a great deal of hard work by officers, members, and executives of the Association, working with professional advisors, a set of guidelines is provided by the Association which, if followed, provides protection against action by the Revenue Commissioners. Sean cites his own experience in Sandycove Dental Practice where an audit by Revenue verified that their associates where following all the correct procedures for entitlement to associate status.

Work to do
While there have been notable successes by the Association such as the above, there is still much which can be sought. Sean points to the urgent need for the restoration of the Government schemes – the DTSS and the DTBS. “These schemes should be fully reinstated in order to reduce the neglect of the nation’s oral health. Put simply: the public should get the treatment to which they are entitled, and the dentists should get fair remuneration for that,” says Sean.

He is also certain that the position of Chief Dental Officer cannot be performed on a part-time basis. “While we congratulate Dr Dympna Kavanagh on her appointment, the Association is firmly of the view that the proper workload of the a Chief Dental Officer cannot be carried out at less than full time working hours.” The Association, in partnership with the Dental Hospitals and the RCSI, has been engaging with the Department of Health on this issue and has made its point of view well known.

There will be further engagement with the Government in relation to the Pre-Budget Submission that sets out ten recommendations from the Association to Government. “These recommendations set out our concerns in relation to every aspect of oral health policy and administration and the actions we feel are required for progress, e.g., the restoration of the Government schemes and the appointment of the full-time Chief Dental Officer.

Health of the Association
Sean is confident of the current health of the Association itself: “The IDA is vibrant. It has more than 1,500 members. It is very active on a huge variety of topics. For example, the rates of pay of dentists in the HSE were not cut recently – in comparison to doctors; and our mediation service – the Dental Complaints Resolution Service – has been a big success. Our CPD activities and our social activities are highly sought after, and we have fantastic engagement with and by young dentists. I am particularly looking forward to attending the IDA Annual Seminar for HSE dental surgeons in Mullingar in October.”

And, with the Association in such good shape as it approaches its 90th anniversary, the President points out that it is getting stronger in other ways: “We are determined to secure negotiating rights for our members.”

Greatest strength
The Association’s greatest strength, according to Sean, is its sense of unity. “We need to foster that feeling of community, of being in a profession together. The current trend for competition can pit one practitioner against another; this is not to the benefit of the profession or of our patients.”

Taking continuous education to heart
Dr Malone has continued his education right through his career. Following graduation from Dublin in 1980, he worked for a year in Dublin Dental Hospital and then for a further year in Royal Liverpool Dental Hospital. A seven-year stint in practice in Preston followed before his return to Dublin in 1990. He joined Sandycove Dental Practice while spending two days a week working at the Dublin Dental Hospital. During this time, he obtained his Fellowship in Dental Surgery from the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland. Sean has lectured extensively to students and to the profession on topics ranging from modern techniques for white filling to management of the anxious patient. He is an examiner for the RCSI in their postgraduate examinations in Ireland and abroad, and in 2008 was elected a Fellow of the International College of Dentistry in recognition of his services to the profession.

Another life
While Dr Malone’s life is busy with the Presidency of the Association for this year, he has a very full life away from dentistry. Brought up in Rathgar in Dublin by his parents who were both doctors, the family had a strong mix of music, sport and science. Sean learned to play the flute classically and played with the National Youth Orchestra. However, his ear turned to Irish music and in his teens played in a band called Temple House. His sister, Geraldine, stayed with the classical music, becoming a professional musician and is now head of music at one of Dublin’s leading secondary schools. The music link has stayed in the family with Sean’s daughter, Ailbhe, being a journalist who covers music as part of her work.

Sean is married to Norma whom he met in college and who works with him at Sandycove Dental Practice. They have three children: the aforementioned Ailbhe who is 26; Rob who is 22 and has just completed a degree in Irish studies; and Rory who has just done his Junior Cert at Coláiste Eoin.

Sean’s interest in music continues through his singing with Dun Laoghaire Choral Society but he has taken a year’s leave from the Society while he is President. Sport is also a mainstay of Sean’s leisure time. He plays golf to a single figure handicap, and follows all the team sports. He has an added interest in the Munster rugby team these days as Norma’s nephew, Ian Keatley, is now an established player.

Mouth Cancer Awareness Day
“I want to pay tribute to former President, Dr Conor McAlister, for introducing this programme where so many members of the profession give their time for no pay to the benefit of the public. Early diagnosis is very important for oral cancer survival rates and we need to get the message out that an oral cancer examination is a part of the routine examination we do for our patients every day,” says Dr Malone.

Dealing with debt
Dr Malone has profound views on facing the difficulties of modern life in Ireland: “Many people in this country are saddled with huge debts. In our practice, we looked at our running costs and by reducing a number of monthly expenditures, we made a significant saving. On a personal level, I believe it is very important to appreciate what you have: your health; your family and to try to remember, none of us will come this way again so we should try to enjoy it as far as we can. On a professional level, doing courses on techniques which deliver excellent aesthetics with lower costs  – for example componeers – is an important way to help improve our businesses. Dr Peter Gannon, our President next year, has organised a world authority on composite restorations to speak at the Conference in Kilkenny in 2014. That presents all of us with a great opportunity to learn something which will help us to improve our business.”