Dentalpalooza marks shift back to in-person conferences

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On June 4, Dentalpalooza will take place at the Lawn on D, an outdoor community event space created by and located next to the convention center in Boston's waterfront district. The conference is the first outdoor event organized by the Yankee Dental Congress. It is expected to bring in about 1,500 attendees, and 80 companies have signed up as exhibitors, said Shannon McCarthy, Massachusetts Dental Society (MDS) managing director of business development and the Yankee Dental Congress.

"After over a year of isolation, we are so excited that we will be able to see our colleagues and dental teams in person and have a lot of fun throughout the day," added Dr. Mary Jane Hanlon, president of MDS.

In addition to classes, attendees will spend the day surrounded by tie-dyed shirts and have the opportunity to listen to a dentist-led garage band and play bocce. The relaxed tone is a marked shift from the prepandemic dental conferences with suits and lectures in chilly, sterile rooms. But whether Dentalpalooza is just a 2021 fad or shift in dental conferences overall is still to be seen.

A picture of a snow-free January in Massachusetts

The idea of Dentalpalooza was inspired by a photo McCarthy snapped of the Lawn on D during the Yankee Dental Congress in 2019.

"I had to laugh a little because it was the first time in years I actually could see the lawn without snow on it," she said.

A view of the snowless Lawn on D in Boston taken in January 2019 was the inspiration for the Yankee Dental Congress' first outdoor event, Dentalpalooza. Image courtesy of Shannon McCarthy.A view of the snowless Lawn on D in Boston taken in January 2019 was the inspiration for the Yankee Dental Congress' first outdoor event, Dentalpalooza. Image courtesy of Shannon McCarthy.

After the meeting shifted to a virtual format in January 2021, McCarthy wanted to come up with something different for later in the year. Looking at that photo of the Lawn on D, McCarthy realized the space presented an opportunity to hold an outdoor event.

Attendees of the Yankee Dental Congress, which occurs during the winter months, always wonder what Boston looks like in the summer. This was the chance to show them, she said. And what better way to do that than with a music festival vibe?

"I was thinking about Woodstock and how people came together whether it was rain or shine, so Dentalpalooza just seemed to fit the idea," McCarthy said. "I wanted it to emulate fun and reconnecting with peers."

Fortunately for McCarthy, dental teams and companies liked the idea as well. In December, exhibitors were offered opportunities to sign up for the virtual show, Dentalpalooza, or both.

"We were shocked at how eager companies were to participate in this event," she said.

Easing into normal

At Dentalpalooza, exhibitors will be set up outside under tents of different sizes on the lawn's 2.7 acres, while continuing education courses will be held inside the convention center with appropriate capacity limits and socially distanced seating. The event is offering 20 courses, a CPR certification tent, and hands-on courses.

"I think having the event outside allows people to feel safer in reconnecting," McCarthy said.

In between visiting exhibits and taking courses, attendees can get reacquainted while hanging out on giant LED swings and listening to live entertainment. They'll also be able to play backyard games, including cornhole, bocce, ping pong, and Jenga.

One member, Dr. Gigi Garcia-Rogers, a pediatric dentist at Sugarbug Dental Suite in Chelmsford, MA, and her garage band 7 of 7 will be performing, along with an Irish step dancing group and an electronic violinist, McCarthy said.

Of course, no festival-style conference would be complete without food and drinks. The first 500 registrants also received matching tie-dye shirts.

Planning during a pandemic

The ever-changing guidance and restrictions at the state and U.S. levels have made planning a challenge but not impossible, McCarthy said. However, COVID-19 was not the only restriction on her mind.

Outdoor events also create obstacles, she said. For example, the lawn area does not have electricity throughout the space, which meant pushing companies to reimagine how they interact with customers.

McCarthy asked exhibitors to come with fun prizes, and they have delivered. Some of the more unique offerings include tickets to a Red Sox game and a paddleboard.

Also, weather has been discussed a lot during the planning, she said. Unless there is severe weather, Dentalpalooza will be held rain or shine. The tents could not be booked for two days, so McCarthy said everyone will have to roll with whatever Mother Nature throws their way.

"We are in this for better or worse and have our fingers crossed that all goes well," McCarthy said. "Doing a full sun dance."

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