I am both honored and to be honest, a little nervous to take the helm during this unique, somewhat troubling time in our history. In January, I decided that the theme of my year as President would be Transformation because our Society had just hired a new Executive Director, and I knew we would be in for a year of exciting changes. Little did I know how much “transformation” our profession, our country and indeed our lives would be dealing with this year. 

        Dentistry has been one of the many professions that has been severely impacted by this novel virus, both economically and in every aspect of the way dentists and their staff deliver patient care in their practices. Additionally, dental school faculty and staff are working hard to adapt to online teaching and changes in clinical and laboratory protocols. And, our newest graduates are struggling as they strive to enter practice in the face of these unprecedented times. We have all had to learn many new terms, such as PPP, PPE, EIDL, CARES Act, N95 vs. KN95, “flattening the curve,” “donning and doffing,” to name a few. 

And through all of this, I have never been more impressed with the American Dental Association leadership. Many of our local member dentists have worked tirelessly at the local, state and even the national levels to advocate for us, and to develop strategies for getting us back to work safely. The ADA’s “Return to Work Interim Guidance Toolkit” has been used by countless dentists across the country as a guide to reopening their dental practices safely and efficiently. The TDA has worked with the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners and with the Governor of Texas to create safe standards and timelines for getting Texas dentists back to work, has advocated for PPE for Texas dentists, has developed an efficient mask recycling program, constructed patient letter templates, and are working on many other processes to make our practice lives easier. For all of these reasons, I have never been more grateful for my membership in the American Dental Association and Texas Dental Association. It is my sincere belief that once we get beyond this crisis and achieve our new normal, dentists across the country will realize now, more than ever, how critical the ADA and the TDA is for our profession, and we will see a surge in membership.

Here in Houston, we have some exciting new initiatives planned. First of all, there will be a joint effort between the Membership Committee and the Communication Committee to plan new, innovative ways to reach out to our members, and inform potential members of our activities in an effort to maintain our membership levels and decrease attrition using a more positive narrative. In another initiative, the Membership Committee, headed by Drs. Emily Moers and Adrien Theriot, along with the Sponsorship Committee led by Drs. Katie To and Shelly Seidel will work to develop a local member benefits program to offer new types of benefits to our local members.  This initiative is due in part to results of member surveys conducted by the Membership Committee this past year. 

The Dental Health Committee, under the leadership of Drs. Gary Williams and Rana Shammas, will be working to engage our membership in volunteer efforts, some of which tragically had to be postponed this year due to the pandemic. Their passion for volunteerism is inspiring and even though we may not be able to volunteer in the typical way this year, I have faith that they will develop interesting new ways to volunteer and help others.

The Diversity and Inclusion Committee, under the leadership of Dr. Victor Rodriguez, with help from Dr. Michelle Thompson and her video expertise, continue to work in innovative ways to engage and recruit members of diverse backgrounds to enrich our membership and create a dental society that parallels the rich diversity of the great city of Houston.

Under the leadership of Dr. Lee Clitheroe, Chair of our Legislative Action Committee, and Dr. Duc Ho, our DENPAC Chair, we will be busy preparing members to advocate for our profession, which will presumably be focusing on many new issues brought to light by the current times. Next year is a legislative year for the State of Texas, so we will no doubt be calling upon our members to participate in advocacy endeavors at the local and state levels.

This year, our Society will also have to focus on some new cost saving initiatives aimed at strengthening our fiscal health. Ms. Menesses, our new E.D., is brimming with ideas to make our organization run more efficiently and in a more cost-effective way. Some of these ideas will necessitate changes to our by-laws, re-examining our strategic plan, and shifting the focus of everything we do to positively impact our membership in measurable ways. So, watch for some proposed by-laws changes and be prepared to vote! 

In all honesty, we are not sure how the pandemic will affect our activities and abilities to all meet together this coming year. We will plan for different scenarios, making sure that one way or another we can still gather together. Our Star of the South Dental Meeting may look slightly different in 2021, but the Star Council, led by Dr. Stephen Laman, is already working hard to put together a program that will be second to none and an event not to miss.

I want to personally thank all of the new chairs of our GHDS standing and elected committees, and our new Board Members who have said yes to serve our Society during this unique and exciting time in our history. We all benefit from your commitment and dedication. 

Now, I would like to take just a moment to thank my family and friends who have helped to shape my career and my life. To my UTSD faculty family, where I started my career and gained invaluable experience in the value of achieving clinical excellence, working with others to obtain a common goal, and imparting our dental knowledge to the next generation of dentists. And especially to my mentor and friend, Dr. John Powers, who, at one time or another, has been my boss, teacher, collaborator, life advisor, and dear friend for over 30 years, I thank you. To the Hunsaker family, who I have known most of my life, who influenced my decision to become a dentist, and who I practiced with for over 20 years, I thank you. To Dr. Steven Vaughan and my current office staff who have to put up with me now. I appreciate all of them so much. To my parents, who I am still lucky enough to have close by, who have been my biggest cheerleaders throughout my life, and have always told me that I could accomplish anything to which I put my mind, I thank you. To my children, who now have their own families, but when they were young had to suffer through activities like learning how to manipulate a jaw into centric relation, listening to countless lectures on proper dental hygiene and enduring various OCD manifestations, I thank you for your patience. And finally, to my husband Keith, who has supported me in everything I have ever done, as long as he doesn’t have to come with me! I thank you for your love and support. I am indebted to each and every one of you and thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

And finally, in closing, I want to focus on the people who have impacted my career at the Greater Houston Dental Society. First of all, I want to thank Dr. Glenda Owen for her leadership this past year, for the many hours she spent working on our behalf, for keeping us informed during this unsettling time, and for the calm, efficient, organized way she went about the business of leading the Greater Houston Dental Society. I have big shoes to fill, no doubt! I also want to thank all of the outgoing Board members for their leadership this past year and their commitment to our Society. They had to make some tough decisions on our behalf, and they did so in a professional, caring manner. Ms. Charlotte Bolls deserves a huge round of applause for her willingness to serve as our Interim Executive Director and for her effective leadership during that process. In fact, I want to thank the entire GHDS staff, including Ms. Bolls, Ms. Jayne Fuller, Ms. Jennifer Smith, and Ms. Della Goodson for their dedication and positive attitudes while they worked tirelessly to keep the ship afloat and moving forward during our interim leadership period. We are blessed to have such dedicated, hard-working staff and we appreciate all of you more than you know. 

Lastly, I want to welcome and thank Ms. Deanna Menesses, our new Executive Director, who officially joined the GHDS on March 3, only two weeks before the entire staff moved home to work. She has made tremendous progress learning about the many intricacies of our Society in some tough working conditions, and she should be commended for that. Her leadership thus far has been nothing short of inspirational, and I know we are in good hands going forward. 

I also know that I am standing on the shoulders of many who have come before me, and I want to acknowledge some of my GHDS mentors, many of whom used to be my students, by the way, which is both humbling and inspiring. Past presidents who I have served under have taught me volumes about leadership. I will try to channel Dr. Joe Piazza for his passion for service and community, Dr. Duc Ho for his humility and humor coupled with an incredible commitment to organized dentistry, Dr. Victor Rodriquez for his compassion and inclusiveness, Dr. Laji James for his insight and ability to see the big picture, Dr. Rihl Buckley for his fiscal insight, and Dr. Glenda Owen for her effective leadership style.
During my time on the GHDS Board, I have also had the chance to witness with awe and respect the works of so many of our past Greater Houston Dental Society leaders who have gone on to serve as leaders at the TDA and the ADA levels. I wish I could ask you all to stand and be recognized, but unfortunately this year, that is impossible to do. We all know who you are, and we thank you so much for your leadership and commitment to organized dentistry and for the positive light you shine on all of us here in Houston. 

So, as you can see, there is a rich history of experience for me to tap into, which helps to give me the strength and confidence to serve as this year’s GHDS President. I look forward to my role this coming year as your president, and hope to help us navigate through this unsettling time, as we work to bring the profession of dentistry back to becoming even stronger than it was before, and making us even more committed to our profession and to the ADA. Thank you so much for your confidence and trust.


Kathy L. O’Keefe D.D.S., M.S.
Greater Houston Dental Society