Leading light

Co-chair of the recent EAO Annual Scientific Meeting in Dublin, Professor David Harris talks about his experiences over the last three decades working in the field of implantology

Twice former president and founder member of the European Association of Osseointegration (EAO), Dublin-based specialist Professor David Harris has been at the cutting edge of implantology for more than 30 years.

So, it was no surprise that he was chosen, alongside his compatriot Prof Brian O’Connell, to co-chair the scientific programme for the EAO’s Annual Scientific Meeting in Dublin recently.

Planning for the association’s 22nd annual meeting began two years ago with the establishment of the scientific committee that consisted of Ioannis Polyzois and Leo Stassen from Ireland, Nikolaos Donos, Theodoros Kapos and Ailsa Nicol from the UK, Niklaus Lang from Switzerland, Frank Schwarz from Germany and Chantal Malevez from Belgium.

Their first job was to decide on a theme and Prof Harris said that it was clear from the outset what that was to be. He said: “Brian and I had a very definite idea that we should be looking to the future, because last year’s meeting looked at the past and what we had learned.

” This year we tried to address a lot of practical and contemporary issues on which practitioners, whether they be specialist or generalist, needed clarity. An example of this would be the session we have dealing with the restoration of the central incisor tooth – one of the most difficult things to do.

” We asked our speakers to say not only what can be done, but also what can be done predictably and what, in their experience, can we reasonably promise our patients as well as how to manage many of the nightmare situations facing clinicians.”

The meeting also included sessions on topics such as restoring the posterior maxilla, on risk management and on the problems we will face treating an increasingly ageing population. Prof Harris said: “I think this is the first international conferences where it has been addressed. The changing demographics of the population are going to have huge implications because, if people are going to live on into their ninth decade, are their teeth going to follow them?

” People are keeping their teeth longer and, as such, there are many factors that have to be taken into consideration such as drugs that dry the mouth and the quality of life issues for those in care homes who are edentulous. But if you are on a diet of mush, your quality of life is adversely affected compared to someone who has either their own teeth or a simple implant reconstruction, for instance.”

The committee drew together more than 70 speakers and chairs from around the world, including Torsten Jemt, Mark Pinsky, Franck Renouard, Philippe Gault, Stefan Renvert and many others. Speaking about the calibre of speakers he and Prof O’Connell had helped attract to Dublin, he said: “It’s an extraordinary faculty of world-class speakers, both well known as well as new faces coming through, and this is bearing in mind that we are not allowed to have the same speaker two years in a row. Last year, in Copenhagen, Søren Schou managed to grab a lot of excellent speakers we might have considered!

He explained that the EAO’s name could come in handy when putting together a high-quality speaking line-up. He said: “I think one of the easy tasks in being a scientific chairman of the EAO is that you can write to speakers anywhere in the world. They don’t get paid an honorarium – all they get is their economy class airfare, accommodation and they are guests at the dinner, but they don’t get paid.

” This is the third EAO meeting that I have chaired and we have only had one person say that they couldn’t afford to come without an honorarium.

” We don’t allow industry to pay for them either. Right from its origins, we made the decision to try and keep industry separate from the science. So industry has no say in who speaks.”

The event, held at the Convention Centre Dublin on 17 to 19 October, saw more than 2,000 delegates from all over the world attend, a far cry from the first event in the early 1990s that saw “150 people meeting up in a hotel room”. Prof Harris said: “Funnily enough, in Dublin in 1995, was the first time it came out of a hotel room. We had 600 people then and we thought it was amazing.

” The board at that time came up with a policy of keeping the industry separate from the science. It has gone from strength to strength and it is now a major international meeting.”

Asked if he is surprised at how big the association, and the event, has become he said: “Not really. In 1994/95 we didn’t really know how we were going to survive because we didn’t have any money. There was nothing.

” But, once the sponsors came on board and accepted their position – that was a tough sell because they had wanted to get this person or that person on the podium – we knew it was going to be big.”

After being president twice, helping organise three conferences, two consensus meetings and sitting on virtually every committee there is in the association, Prof Harris’s official duties with the EAO came to an end when the conference closed. He said: “It has been a great journey. Two years ago I was ready to call it a day but then they decided to have the congress in Dublin.

” I’m so looking forward to going to Rome (venue for the 2014 meeting), walking in that door and registering like everyone else and enjoying the meeting. I am also looking forward to being able to enjoy the new talent coming through, especially the guys we have on the junior committee. These are really talented people coming up and getting rid of the old fogies like me.

“So, I have no doubt that the future of the association is definitely in good hands.”

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Prof Harris was one of the pioneers of implant dentistry, working with the ‘godfather’ himself, Professor PI Brånemark, in the early 1980s. Prof Harris said: “We worked together at the Blackrock Clinic in Dublin, which is where I am still based as well as at Trinity College Dublin. We were one of the pioneer teams that worked with Professor Brånemark in introducing osseointegrated implants into clinical practice. At that time there were really only about 20 teams in the world working with him, but that was the way he worked.

“Going back, between 1984 and 1990, Dublin was very much the centre of what was happening internationally simply because of our close association with Brånemark who liked working here and he ran a number of international courses. The problem was that we could never accommodate the numbers. They came from everywhere to hear it from the originator himself.

“We also got together with Professor Daniel van Steenberghe from the Catholic University of Leuven. He formed the European Osseointegration Centre, based in the Catholic University of Leuven, of which the University of Gothenburg, ourselves at Blackrock and, to a certain extent Trinity College, were involved. These were terrific times and much of it was centred on not letting this new technique get lost in the rubbish that went beforehand.”