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40 Years of the Moyers Symposium

It’s a tribute to stamina, adaptability, and creative thinking.

"The success of the Symposium is due to the quality of the speakers and relevance of the topics addressed"

Every year for the past 40 years, hundreds of orthodontists, residents, private practitioners and other oral health care professionals, along with those from the medical community, have traveled to the University of Michigan for the Moyers Symposium to listen to world-renowned experts talk about new discoveries and clinical advances in orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics, craniofacial growth and development research, and other breakthroughs that ultimately affect the treatment and care patients receive.

The 2013 Moyers Symposium was no exception. The 2014 Moyers Symposium is shaping up to be another dynamic program.

More than 800 people from 31 countries attended this year’s, three-day program, The 40th Moyers Symposium: Looking Back…Looking Forward. For some, it was their first Symposium. For others, it was a reunion.

Dr. Lee Graber, past president of both the American Association of Orthodontists and the World Federation of Orthodontists, said he has attended “at least 27 Moyers Symposium programs.”

An “Intellectual High”

Graber said he returns often because the Symposium produces “a predictable intellectual high. The quality of the program and the shared experiences with a diverse audience of dental and medical academicians, students, and clinicians has been consistently outstanding,” he said. “Topics have been timely and the planning committees, led by Dr. Jim McNamara, have brought recognized leaders in their area of expertise together in one location.”

Jim McNamara
Dr. James McNamara delivers the 17th Annual Robert E. Moyers Memorial Lecture, Reflections on the Moyers Symposium: A Living History of Contemporary Orthodontics and Craniofacial Biology. Photo by Per Kjeldsen

Dr. G. Thomas Kluemper, past chair of the Department of Orthodontics at the University of Kentucky-Lexington and a graduate of the U-M orthodontic program in 1991, conveyed his thoughts about the Moyers Symposium to the words of a Jimmy Buffet song. [See sidebar.]

That so many returned this year was not only a celebration of the Symposium’s longevity, but also an acknowledgement of the power of an idea sparked by a U-M School of Dentistry graduate.

After earning his Doctor of Dental Surgery degree in 1956 and running a successful general practice for many years, Dr. Verne Primack wanted to thank Dr. Robert Moyers for being a mentor and inspiration throughout his dental education.

Primack and his wife, Naomi, wanted to establish a forum where the world’s top researchers, clinicians and teachers could talk about innovative research and present new ideas in craniofacial growth and development. They wanted the program to be open to practitioners in dental, medical, and allied health fields. Primack passed away March 19, a week after the 40th Moyers Symposium was held.

Reasons for Success

Dr. James McNamara, the Thomas M. and Doris Graber Endowed Professor of Dentistry, has been involved with the Moyers Symposium from the start.

Also a research professor with the Center for Human Growth and Development and a professor of cell and developmental biology at the Medical School, he was one of the speakers during the 1974 inaugural program and has been a member of the organizing committee since then. McNamara became Symposium moderator in 1976 and has been program coordinator for more than 30 years.

That longevity gives him a unique perspective to assess the reasons for the Symposium’s success.

“Those who attend are very loyal,” McNamara said. “Many keep returning because they enjoy being in Ann Arbor, hearing expert speakers in orthodontics and craniofacial biology present new information, and personally reconnecting with colleagues. In the end,” he added, “the success of the Symposium is due to the quality of the speakers and relevance of the topics addressed.”

Selecting compelling topics can be a challenge at times “because it often is difficult to anticipate, with any certainty, what hot topics might be of interest two or three years in advance,” McNamara said. But given the rapport he and members of the planning committee have with the oral health care community, “we seek topic ideas and recommendations for possible speakers worldwide,” he said.

In recent years, the planning committee has been composed of full-time U-M orthodontics faculty including Drs. Sunil Kapila, Nan Hatch, Scott Conley, Jeanne Nervina and Lucia Cevidanes.

Adapting to Change

Is it possible to have too much of a good thing?

After the first Moyers Symposium ended, McNamara said “there were many other highly-qualified persons who attended and could have spoken, but weren’t able to because we didn’t have enough time.” That led to the creation of a “Presymposium” the following year.

The number of monographs presented at this year's Moyers Symposium is impressive.
How much information has been presented during the annual Moyers Symposium? The 39 Moyers Symposium monographs are almost as tall as 2-1/2-year-old Kendall McNamara (left) and 3-year-old Alex McClatchey. Photo by Dr. James McNamara

The Presymposium, The Annual International Conference on Craniofacial Research, features international speakers presenting papers relevant to orthodontics and craniofacial biology. Each speaker discusses their work for about 20 minutes and answers questions. Presymposium attendance is smaller, 150 to 225 persons. Since the venue is more intimate, lively intellectual discussions are routine.

That ability to assess, adapt and remain relevant is evident in the topics presented.

During the first decade of the Moyers Symposium (1974-1983) most topics focused on craniofacial growth. During the second decade (1984-1993) it was evidence-based treatment. The third decade (1994-2003) continued examining evidence-based treatment, but also explored tissue engineering, technology, and interdisciplinary studies. The fourth decade (2004-2013) included discussions on implants, radiology, and technology.

Also enhancing the visibility and success of the Moyers Symposium is The Craniofacial Growth Monograph Series, an annual publication that provides a printed summary of presentations at the Symposium and thematically relevant talks from the Presymposium.

Since 1974, Needham Press in Ann Arbor has distributed 39 volumes that include the works of 1,006 authors and 304 speakers that total 11,708 pages.

The book from each Moyers Symposium usually is available at the following year’s Symposium.

:  Lori Morford, research assistant professor at the University of Kentucky
Lori Morford, research assistant professor at the University of Kentucky, discusses her poster presentation, Use of Models to Delineate the Genetic Link between Naturally Missing Teeth and Cancer. Photo by Per Kjeldsen

Special Events Celebrating 40 Years

Two special events marked this year’s program.

One was an evening reception in the skyboxes at the Big House. Speakers, guests, and their families also went on to the football field and into the locker rooms to get a different perspective of U-M football.

The other special event was a poster presentation about research in basic, translational and clinical science relevant to orthodontics and craniofacial growth and development. Thirty-four posters were presented by students and junior orthodontic faculty at Rackham Auditorium. Lorri Morford of the University of Kentucky was first place winner in the junior faculty category. Megan LeCornu of the University of North Carolina won in the student category. Both received $1,000 for their winning presentations. Because of the success of this year’s program, a similar session will be held annually in the future.

The Future of Moyers Symposium

Looking ahead, McNamara said, “there will be reflection on the questions that have been answered. But I’m sure thought will also be given to what questions still need to be answered as well as what innovations are on the horizon.”

Underscoring the Symposium’s international prominence, Kapila, chair of the Department of Orthodontics and Pediatric Dentistry, said he is “looking forward to continuing the tradition of excellence with high caliber, clinically relevant and evidence-based presentations for years to come.”

2013 Keynote Speakers

Keynote Speakers at the 2013 Moyers Symposium
Keynote speakers at the 2013 Moyers Symposium. Photo by Per Kjeldsen

Keynote speakers for the 2013 Moyers Symposium were (left to right): Dr. Vincent Kokich, editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics, who passed away July 24; Dr. David Sackett, a pioneer in evidence-based medicine; and Dr. Lysle Johnston, past chair of the U-M School of Dentistry’s Department of Orthodontics and Pediatric Dentistry and director of the Graduate Orthodontics Program.