Tom Smyth. The name may be ubiquitous, but to those active in the Minnesota Dental Association, with it we conjure up one of our most dynamic and quirky volunteers. Active in organized dentistry since day one, Tom’s magnetic personality makes others want to be involved in his pursuits. He is a master storyteller, a savvy practitioner, a businessman, and a genuinely nice guy. And fortunately for the MDA’s dentists, his contributions benefit all of our members. Dr. Thomas Smyth was awarded the Minnesota Dental Association’s New Dentist Award for this 2010. In June, at the American Dental Association’s New Dentist conference in San Diego, Tom was awarded the 2010 Golden Apple New Dentist Leadership Award, a national award he has been earning since starting dental school in 1996. The entire MDA wishes to congratulate him on this much deserved recognition. We sat down with Tom recently for the following conversation.
NWD: You have a passion for all aspects of dentistry. Who helped you to discover this profession?
Tom: I grew up in the town of Glencoe, Minnesota. We had four general dentists in our community —
Dick Carver, Merril Nelson, Tom Schoeneberger, and Bill Dunbar — and they were all very visible in the
community. In a small town you couldn’t help but know who the dentists were. So before I even knew
anything about science or dentistry, they all just seemed like individuals I’d want to emulate in some way.
NWD: You have been involved in organized dentistry since dental school. You were an active ASDA member, a Student District trustee, and currently sit on several MDA committees. How did you get involved in organized dentistry?
Tom: The ASDA president in my class was Jeff Amann, and he told us we were invited to be on MDA committees if we were ASDA members. One day he was giving us different options to become involved. I thought, “MDA Insurance Committee ... that would be great ... I don’t know anything about dental insurance, I could sure learn something there.” So he put my name in as one of two students on the committee so I could learn about dental insurance. Well, I learned a lot more about many other kinds of insurance, member benefits, why and which disabilities dentists get most commonly, and other items — but still nothing about dental insurance!
NWD: Why have you chosen to stay involved? You have a family, your own practice(s), and a life filled full without organized dentistry.
Tom: First, I believe in the organization process and the efforts of the Association. Second, organized dentistry gets me out of my hole. It’s what pulls my tired self out of my cave, where I see the same people all the time, and forces me to work with other members of my profession. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been coming up for a Friday meeting, tired and bothered, and then learned something clinical or administrative from the other members on the committee that changed the way I looked at things the next day or the next week.
NWD: You helped to build a fledgling ASDA chapter while at the University of Minnesota. What were some of the activities that helped make the chapter the exemplary component society it is today?
Tom: It is my observation and opinion that each year the chapter has taken steps forward. When a chapter is young, those steps are very basic, but when you do that year after year for 15-20 years, you get something special. When I was in school, Lisa Young, Darcy (Deboer) Rindelaub, and Jeff Amann all took their turns running the local chapter. Each year it improved. As simple and basic as it sounds, I remember when we started this new idea of having an agenda for each meeting! I tagged along to a couple of national meetings as delegate, and found that our Region (an “ASDA level” in those days) had no/zip/zero/ zilch, national leaders. ASDA Region 8 elected me to the Trustee position with the primary goal of increasing our regional presence. In my two years on the Board of Trustees, students from our district filled 20% of the national leadership positions. Soon after I graduated, Minnesota students Marcus Tanabe and Sayeed Attar were active at the executive level.
NWD: Do you have a favorite dental school memory?
Tom: One of my roommates found a bone in the parking lot of Psi Omega, put it in a bag, and called the Minneapolis Police Department. He assured the officer that “I took gross anatomy right there at Moos Tower, and this is the end of a human femur.” Turned out to be a ham bone...
NWD: Why dentistry? Any other career aspirations?
Tom: I looked at medicine, pharmacy, and dentistry. I truly started looking at dentistry while in college, when I began figuring out that it would be very unlikely that I would own my own business in the other two. That was the initial interest.
NWD: Is it true that you rode your bike from the Cities up to Duluth for no apparent reason?
Tom: I would argue with the “no apparent reason” part ... One of my Psi O roommates stated she’d bike the trip with me. So we left the house at 6:00 a.m. one August Saturday morning. We weathered one thunderstorm, one bear, and one wino. We arrived at the Lift Bridge in Canal Park in Duluth at 10:10 p.m. It was great fun.
NWD: Advice to those still in school or just starting their careers as dentists?
Tom: Live as a dentist as a student, and ye shall live as a student as a dentist.
NWD: You were honored with the 2010 Golden Apple New Dentist Leadership Award, recognition by the ADA for the leadership that you have shown since you were a student. Do you have any personal aspirations within the organization?
Tom: The last few years I have had a lot of little jobs within the organization. But right now I’m looking forward to just getting back to the Southern District next year with Ken Windshitl and Grant Sorenson and hopefully having a successful year down here. I would love to run someone’s campaign for ADA president in 20 years or more. I enjoy working with the individuals from different regions of the U.S. and building relationships with them.
NWD: If you had six months with no family to consider or financial constraints, how would you spend your time?
Tom: I’d recruit a band of merry travelers to join me and bicycle from Lisbon to Ljubljana, on a very zig-zagged course.
NWD: Do you have a favorite book? Why?
Tom: I do: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. Why? It’s a hundred times better than the musical. [Laughs] It’s
quite a journey, but well worth it.
NWD: Is your family involved in dentistry?
Tom: My wife is a hygienist. Her father and his brother are both dentists. They have “adopted” me. So “involved”? You bet. “Family”? That’s what the story is all about, personally and professionally.
* Dr. Clouse is a general dentists in private practice in Prior Lake, Minnesota. E-mail is email@example.com