August 08, 2022

Thoughts on the future orthodontic conference

A couple of weeks ago, I gave my final conference presentation. This was at a tremendous small meeting in Portmeirion in Wales. I decided to make this my last presentation because I want to stop speaking while I am coherent! Having taken this step, I have reflected on the future orthodontic conference.


As the first step to this post, I have gone back to an editorial I wrote for the Journal of Orthodontics in 2002. At this time, I was at a very cynical point in my career. These were my thoughts at that time on the value of a conference.

“I think that we should all consider what we get out of our attendance at a meeting, particularly a large international meeting and its required travelling time. When we consider the information available from the presentations, a review of past conferences reveals that it is frequently an expert opinion based on a few case reports and early publication of study results (which may change before publication in refereed journals). Neither of these formats is hard science. While some may argue that this is useful. We must consider whether we are being misled by the content of most conferences, bearing in mind the weak level of evidence being presented.

I also reviewed a blog post on the future of conferences after the COVID pandemic. that I wrote two years ago, and I concluded:

“I cannot help thinking that the traditional conference has had its day. Indeed, we may be rapidly moving to the exchange of information using lectures on freely accessible platforms. We will also not be travelling long distances to meetings at a cost to ourselves and our environment. Paradoxically, these are fascinating and exciting developments that may change orthodontics”.

Has my viewpoint changed?

As the pandemic appears to be receding (we hope), it is perhaps time for me to revisit these thoughts. I have also become less cynical in my retirement (some of you may not agree?).

Firstly, I would like to start by looking back. I have attended many conferences all over the World. As a result, I have experienced several formats. These meetings have varied from small local gatherings where speakers simply shared clinical tips. Importantly, they tend to not make extreme claims about the treatment. At the other end of the spectrum are the large national and international meetings. At these events, well-known speakers address large audiences with multiple parallel sessions. But what is the content?

Conference content

In my experience, the content varied from excellent academic/research discussions, for example, Bill Proffit, Lylse Johnston and Kate Vig. Well-presented and critical case reports (TADS, orthognathic surgery) to other speakers who make wild claims about the treatment they are promoting (Invisalign, vibrations, Carriere appliance). These KOLs somehow get invited onto the main programme to promote the products they are paid to sell.

I have enjoyed all these forms of presentation. However, I have not fallen for the sales pitch, and it concerns me that some people have. More of this later.

Social programme

The other major component of the conference is the social programmes. These are integral to many meetings and significant attractions for many people. For example, I have attended sophisticated receptions in fantastic Italian villas to watching captive killer whales diving into small pools in a USA theme park. These forms of entertainment are popular and integral to many delegates. In fact, I wonder if they are the main reason for attending for some?

conference content

Trade exhibition

Finally, there is the trade exhibition where our sales colleagues promote their appliances/treatments. It is also the haunt of some KOLs who present to small audiences on trade stands. We know that the role of the exhibition is to sell, and we should approach it this way. Many colleagues attend the exhibition to review new developments and techniques. It is a core component of the large conferences and raises a lot of funds that support the meeting.

Blurring lines?

While these components of the conference are clear. We need to consider what happens when the lines blur. This results in the conference moving away from an educational event to a social and trade fair event. I cannot help feeling that this trend has increased over the years. There is a clear danger of the conference becoming nothing more than a “show” and party. There is nothing wrong with this if we realise that the meeting should not be our only source of education.

The remote conference

This then brings me to the advantages of the remote conference. There were significant developments in using meeting platforms during the pandemic. I saw many great presentations that were organised on an ad hoc basis or as a remote conference. It was great to view these in the comfort and convenience of my own home. I also enjoyed rewinding and reviewing the presentations to go over important points. Furthermore, I felt perfectly happy recording my presentations before the meeting. This format indeed reduced the pressure, and I was not jet lagged!

Other advantages are that it reduces the time away from work for both speakers and delegates. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it enables delegates from all over the World to access the presentations without the cost and hassle of travelling. Thus making the conference content more accessible.

These are the considerable advantages of remote presentations. As a result, I cannot help feeling that this format should continue in the future orthodontic conference.

The post-COVID conference?
So, what should my ideal new conference look like?

Firstly, all significant meetings should be hybrid with in-person and remote lectures.

This satisfies those who want to attend a meeting, see the exhibition, enjoy the social programme and visit another part of the World. However, if all the lectures are online, this suits those who do not want to attend the meeting or simply attend the lectures. It also enables access to those who cannot participate for cost, environmental, convenience or general hassle reasons.  The conferences could also make this content “free to air” for a period after the meeting.  This enables knowledge to be shared at no cost, which is something that I strongly support.

Secondly, it would be great if the future orthodontic conference committees could move us away from the “show and tell” approach toward more scientific content.

Finally, they should not support the industry-supported, flash, over-rehearsed KOL speakers who wander around the stages peddling their wares without or only grudgingly declaring a conflict. Some of these people have no place in a clinical scientific meeting.

Final comments.

The AAO, BOS and ASO have already held hybrid meetings at their recent conferences. Other organisations may have also done this. It would be great if all major conferences followed their lead. However, the real challenge is improving the scientific content and stopping the dilution of science. It is a great time to make these changes for the future orthodontic conference.

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Have your say!

  1. “These KOLs somehow get invited onto the main programme to promote the products they are paid to sell.”

    “Somehow get invited” is not a reasoned analysis of the problem, or a valid method of selecting speakers.

    Its entirely possible they were selected “because” of what they are selling.

    • Thanks, I agree if someone wants an Aligner speaker at the conference if they want someone who has a reputation they tend to go for the KOLS.

  2. Great post. I have always found it fascinating when I consider that I have learned more from the informal conversations with my colleagues regarding non-scientific, practice management pearls between lectures than from the lectures themselves, as I keep abreast of the scientific literature and not much comes as a surprise to me during the presentations. In addition, the human factor of the face-to-face interactions with new and old friends is priceless to me. Congratulations on your final conference presentation!

  3. Yesterday, at ASLO we concluded our four
    – day meeting in Melbourne Australia. We hosted 21 speakers, 15 in person, seven live-and-virtual, with three extended live full or half-day detail workshops.

    Our speakers included five Orthodontic University Professors, including from Australia, Japan, South Korea, UK, USA, France, Germany, Israel & India, with further people from Moscow and Dubai and other places. No KOLs.

    Amongst the 15 trade displays we displayed two new robotic machines for small private orthodontic offices.

    This was the first live ASO-affiliated orthodontic congress in Australia for over three years.

    Attendees almost universally said it was “the best” meeting they remembered. Our delegates showed signs of being exhilarated.

    So, either they had collective amnesia about past conferences ever having being good, or alternatively, ASLO 2022 did exceed expectations of consistency and quality in the presentations and it was very good.

    Or, perhaps there had been a low expectation or even a prejudice which had been smashed, where, people who were thinking that an orthodontic conference containing the word “Lingual” in its name must too be wierd for a “normal” Orthodontist to enjoy or value. Where the reality was that normal Orthodontists surprisingly discovered that lingual could actually have a high academic content, plus supreme clinical relevance to the everyday practice of “a normal orthodontist”.

    Or perhaps actually, following the COVID-dearth of orthodontic meetings, maybe any “gravy” might easily satisfy an intense hunger for a real meetings.

    Well, speaking for myself, (and I am biased), I found that in this live ASLO meeting of very passionate orthodontic souls, who had missed each other for so long, ASLO strongly pulled everyone together.

    The meeting emitted an outstanding conduit of high level orthodontic knowledge and education.

    The live-virtual ASLO meeting was way-better than reading Orthodontic Journals for four days, which i certainly have done, on occasions, even on holiday.

    This live-cirtual orthodontic meeting was 4000 times better.
    There were many “best parts”.

    In short, humans are social animals. Social interaction motivates hard work which can become fun.

    Knowledge exchange in a social atmosphere is more effective and more motivating than isolated environments for learning.
    There is no long term substitute for real meetings of people. This must be a reason we have schools.

  4. There are two doctors, based in the U.S., who do a podcast on evidence-based medicine. They are getting a lot of requests to do interviews on dentistry / ortho. I think you’d be a perfect guest on their show: Dr. Vinay Prasad and Zubin Damania – – The VPZD show.

  5. There are a number of disadvantages to exclusively remote conferences as well.

    The first is that they are easy enough and inexpensive enough put on that, those without appropriate credentials or without good moral intent can put these on. While there were many valuable online presentations given during the COVID shutdown, IMO, there were also morally inappropriate ones given by profiteers. Those of us active on FB groups have likely seen examples of both.

    Yes, at live conferences many less scientific presentations are found, along with thinly disguised stumping by some KOLs whose moral compass seems always pointed toward the highest bidder. However, at least having legitimate responsible people planning and in charge of a conference maintains an overall current of respectability. Alternatively, the sometimes nefarious among us, who are able to present fully online conferences or courses, seem concerned with maintaining only the patina of science or morally appropriate treatment.

    The scientific and moral validity of the conference or courses presented seems determined by the filter of who is organizing and in charge of a conference. If the conference is presented by a recognized professional group (Such as the AAO) or by an accredited university, as opposed to a faux university created only to give the appearance of legitimacy, then the standards of the conference can only go so low. With exclusively online conferences presented by individuals, the quality and morality is dependent upon individuals. Some are excellent and altruistic to our profession beyond belief. However, the opposite is sometimes true as well. With exclusively online, the quality of the material is dependent upon the quality of the person or persons running the online group. Sometimes those orthodontists are exemplary. Sometimes they are not. The lesion seems to be, when online, attendee beware, look at who is presenting and their history of honorable or dishonorable activities.

  6. Excellent comments.I would hope to see more and more conventions held virtually ,in order to reduce pollution by ,in most cases,unnecessary travel.
    Pertaining to KOL,s :whatever they may be,as long as they clearly identify the payments made to them,I have no concerns.
    Remember,in a busy practice,the acid test of the products promoted by KOL,s will be applied.
    This would be 1-do they improve comfort for the pt .and /or2 -are they more efficient and /or 3 – do they increase profit per case ???
    Not withstanding the level of validating (or not )research ,this is the ultimate test of efficacy!

    • Thanks, I agree with you about pollution and the environment. Recently the KOLs have been declaring but they couch it in vague terms. For example, “ I am not being paid to give this lecture”.

  7. when atending a confereceec i made my aim to go things i know litte about, i also attended more meetings that were not orthodontic than ‘ortho trageted’ meeting (as i too near retirement)
    i found this challanged me more and made me learn new ideas which i felt enhnced my clinical and acdemic practice and not to com complacent having whay you alreday know reinforced
    the second reason is that that travel and social is essncial part of attending confrenecs and should not be overlooked, take time to vist the area and broaded your horizons, meet new people who challage your ideas and concepts. I write this as joint organiser of probably the first truely virtual confernec The British Compter Assited Learning meeting in 1998… it was a near dissaster as everyone missed the social interactiuon. If COVID did nothing it taught that we are socail animals – too many had mental health iusues form teh isolation… please do not confrences fall down teh same rabbit hole!

    sorry for teh typos as i’m currently off the Sciilies yacht racing around Britaian for teh 2nd time this year doing my “real” job, ortho just allowed me to do it 🙂

  8. Many great comments here. Without repeating I’d rather add one or two points.
    I have personal experience of big sponsors trying to get their KOL speakers onto programs. It is quite obvious this happens even at some of the big meetings. Scientific program chairpersons sometimes don’t have the guts to say no.
    Many congresses today feature the same bunch of speakers. It’s almost like a circus moving from one venue to the next. Many are rehashing the same content at each venue. Many speakers could also learn from your example and decide to stop “while they are still coherent”. I remember Kokich and Zachrisson made an agreement about stopping at a certain point.

    • Yes, I am aware of that pressure when I was the scientific chair of the London WFO meeting. I was also out under pressure by several non KOLs who did not make the cut! I remember Kokich nd Zachrisson stopping before their time and it was a good way to finish.

  9. Great blog Kevin. Congratulations on decades of wonderful, insightful and scientifically honest lectures. Being the same age as yourself, now I am worried! I always think about the footballer who went a year to long. The youngsters see a slow old guy struggling to get a kick and not the wizard we were familiar with. I will keep working a bit but my presentation days are almost over (one to go); though not really that many compared to others. I always argued against the magic of SLAs, functionals etc. and for EBO so I guess my lectures were not that sexy. I really have missed not attending our national meetings and admit to missing seeing my colleagues from other states more than the lectures.

  10. I truly enjoyed reading your post Kevin, it has so many interesting components and brings up important points for discussion and planning of future meetings for all.
    To me, it has been a dilema going on for years. Its not simple, but its a type of cycle that comes down to something like this…
    A specialist joins an association for many reasons; some are looking to learn and improve,
    Associations are measured by number of active members,
    Company sponsorships to associations depends on number of active members/attendees to the events,
    Attendees are looking for fun events and companies want to see KOLs to be part of the programs,
    Scientific Speakers (most with minimum social media presence and no company sponsorships) present the latest evidence they have to small audiences (with some amazing exceptions),
    Influencer speakers and KOLs present the latest ¨sexy case technique” they treated that worked by chance to large audiences,
    Attendee attempts “sexy case technique” right away after the lecture,
    Attendee realizes case is not working as it was shown and wonders….
    I think that for many reasons, we are more inclined to quickly apply want we find clinically sexy than what appears to be more clinical scientific evidence…. like in many things in life, the easiest way will always have a quick acceptance, but the right way will always prevail.

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