It has been a busy few months for the Awareness Campaign. With outreach to dental students in full swing, it was time to expand our reach to dental practitioners. And where do we find large groups of dentists, dental hygienists, specialists, and assistants? Dental conferences! We rent a booth on the exhibitor floor and talk with dental practitioners as they walk through the exhibit hall. So far, we’ve reached nearly 2,000 dental professionals.

In November, we attended the American Dental Association’s Annual Meeting in Washington, DC. December found us at the Greater New York Dental Meeting in New York City, and in January we kicked off the new year at the Yankee Dental Congress in Boston.

Our current plans call for us to have a booth in Atlanta at the Hinman Dental Meeting in March, followed in April by the Oklahoma Dental Association Meeting in Oklahoma City.

Many of the larger meetings have 20,000+ people attending. There are rows and rows of exhibits and the halls often seem endless! We usually meet with around 600 people per conference, which is pretty good for a small non-profit. We don’t have large hanging signs, bright lights, or fancy electronic displays. But we do have many free resources and great educational materials!

These conferences are usually three or four days long, and we spend eight or more hours each day at the booth. We couldn’t do what we do without the great help of local volunteers, many of whom are pemphigus or pemphigoid (P/P) patients or friends and family of patients. Patients are encouraged to share their diagnosis stories and reinforce the unique role dental professionals play in getting patients diagnosed sooner.

How do we encourage dentists to stop by our booth? We stand near our booth table, smile, and ask, “Have you heard of pemphigus?” or “Is pemphigoid on your radar?” It is that simple! Many people look at us like, “Pemphi-WHAT?” almost as if we are speaking a foreign language. Once we hand them Awareness Postcards, brochures on the campaign with scientific information, and our Quarterly newsletters and they see the names in print, some recognize them because they remember them from school, saw them in a textbook, or have previously diagnosed a patient. For others, it’s the first time they’ve ever heard or seen the words “pemphigus” and “pemphigoid.” It is truly rewarding to be the person who educates someone about these rare diseases.

“Pemphi-WHAT?” In addition to sharing stories and passing out materials, we also ask dental professionals to take a short survey describing their experience and confidence in diagnosing P/P. We asked, “On a scale from 1 to 5, how confident are you in your ability to recognize the clinical presentation of pemphigus and pemphigoid?” About a third (27/85) of dentists and half of hygienists (14/28) reported low levels of confidence in their ability to recognize P/P. We also asked 141 people if they had heard of the IPPF before they stopped by our exhibitor booth; 81% had not.*

These figures support the need for the Awareness Campaign and increased outreach to the dental community. Since such a large percentage of dental professionals had never heard of the IPPF, we also recognized the need to spread awareness of our Foundation in general. We encourage dental practitioners with P/P patients to inform their patients about the IPPF and all of our patient support services.

These conferences are an excellent way for us to meet dental professionals and spread awareness of P/P and the IPPF. Because of the connections we’ve made at these gatherings, we’ve received requests for Continuing Education presentations and dental student lectures; learned about some great media opportunities; had an article written about us; and have secured some awesome product donations for our Annual Conference goodie bags!

Our goal is that one day dental practitioners will pass by our booth and say, “Yes, I already know about your Foundation.” Until then, we will continue setting up our booth and repeating over and over, as many times as it takes, “Have you heard of pemphigus and pemphigoid?”

*2015 data collected by the IPPF at two dental conferences

Kate Frantz (left), Awareness Campaign Manager, with Marcy Syms (center) and Mindy Unger (right) at the Greater New York Dental Meeting. The Awareness Campaign is generously funded by the Sy Syms Foundation and the Unger family.

The IPPF Awareness Campaign seeks to reduce pemphigus and pemphigoid (P/P) diagnosis times by increasing symptom recognition among dental professionals. It’s important for the Awareness Campaign to connect with dental communities, and one effective way to do this is by exhibiting at major dental conferences.

Recently, the Awareness Campaign was an exhibitor at the American Dental Association’s (ADA) Annual Meeting in Washington, DC from 11/5-11/10 and the Greater New York Dental Meeting (GNYDM) from 11/29-12/2. Campaign staff and volunteers connected with over 600 dental professionals at each meeting, handing out brochures and post cards specifically designed to help these dental professionals recognize P/P symptoms.

An important feature of the IPPF exhibitor booth was the “Meet a Patient” area, where conference attendees were encouraged to ask a volunteer with P/P about their diagnosis story. This kind of personal appeal goes a long way toward helping dental professionals remember to “Put It On Your Radar.”

Another result of attending these conferences is the opportunity to network with others in the dental community who can help spread the word about P/P. At GNYDM, Awareness Campaign Manager Kate Frantz was interviewed for an article in Dentistry Today. The article was published the day after the conference ended, and it featured both an overview of the Awareness Campaign and key information about P/P.

With the success of the ADA and GNYDM exhibitions, the Awareness Campaign will continue to pursue these valuable opportunities to educate dental communities about P/P in 2016. The next event is the Yankee Dental Congress in Boston, MA from 1/28-1/30.