Congratulations to the 2023 FDA Award Winners!

Lianne Bell, FDA Leadership Affairs Manager

Each year the Florida Dental Association’s (FDA) Awards Committee — which is comprised of a member dentist from each of the FDA’s six components as well as a student representative from one of Florida’s dental schools — convenes to discuss and make selections for the association’s annual awards. The committee reviews the nominations in each of the seven categories to determine the winners. The FDA’s recognition of each year’s winners, culminates the annual Awards Luncheon held in June in conjunction with the Florida Dental Convention. The FDA is excited to acknowledge the following individuals for their contributions to organized dentistry, the profession of dentistry and the improved oral health of all Floridians.

The Dental Student Award is given to a third- or fourth-year American Student Dental Association (ASDA) member who has demonstrated exceptional leadership qualities, volunteerism, commitment and involvement in organized dentistry. The 2023 Dental Student Award will be given to Ms. Emily Fuqua, a D4 student at the University of Florida College of Dentistry (UFCD). Emily served on the FDA’s Committee on Conventions and Continuing Education from 2021-23 as the dental student consultant. She was active in helping select speakers and course topics and recruiting attendees.

The Dental Team Member Award is given to a dental team member who has shown dedicated effort and outstanding accomplishments both within the dental team and in public outreach and volunteerism. The 2023 Dental Team Member of the year is Ms. Katie Schutte. Katie is the primary dental assistant and office manager at Richardson Periodontics, where she plans and oversees two annual charity events that have helped to raise more than $20,000 for the Lake County Education Foundation, which supports local schools, teachers and students.

The Public Service Awards are given to an individual, organization or a corporation that has performed extraordinary acts of charitable service related to oral health. The committee has selected three equally deserving candidates in this category. Drs. Susan Byrne and Tracy Eckles both practice general dentistry in Tallahassee, where they served together as co-chairs of the 2022 Florida Mission of Mercy (FLA-MOM) which took place in March 2022 in Tallahassee. The FLA-MOM is a large-scale, two-day, professional dental clinic that provides care to any patient at no cost, with the goal of serving the underserved and uninsured in Florida. Dr. Byrne and Dr. Eckles worked tirelessly to organize the 1,368 volunteers who treated 1,375 patients, completed 9,493 procedures and performed $1.79 million in free dental care to veterans and underserved individuals in the community. Dr. Brandon Alegre is a general dentist in Boca Raton and has taken on several leadership roles within the FLA-MOM since 2016. Dr. Alegre has given countless hours through the years in preparation for the events and will now serve as co-chair for the 2023 FLA-MOM which will be held in February in West Palm Beach.

The New Dental Leader Award is given to a dentist who has been out of dental school for 10 years or less and demonstrates outstanding leadership qualities and professional/ethical conduct. In addition, this person has held leadership positions in their community and organized dentistry. The New Dental Leader of 2023 is Dr. ArNelle Wright. Dr. Wright is a general dentist in Orlando and founder of the the Doctors for Future Doctors Predental Prep & Mentorship Program. She holds a variety of leadership roles at all levels of organized dentistry, some of which include serving on the Board of Directors for the Dental Society of Greater Orlando, as the 17th District representative to the American Dental Association’s (ADA) New Dentist Committee and as co-host of the ADA’s new podcast, “Dental Sound Bites.”

The FDA’s Leadership Awards are given to members of FDA councils, committees, task groups, delegation members or those in component and affiliate leadership roles. These awards look at the length and diversity of leadership service and the development and implementation of new ideas and programs. This year, the committee has selected two outstanding leaders to receive this honor. Dr. Joseph Richardson is a periodontist with practices in Eustis and Winter Park, Fla. Dr. Richardson serves as an alternate delegate to the ADA’s House of Delegates (HOD) and as a delegate to the FDA’s HOD, where he has acted as chair of the Reference Committee. Additionally, Dr. Richardson is the first vice president of the Central Florida District Dental Association. Dr. Walter “Beau” Biggs is a general dentist in Pensacola. After owning a private practice for many years, Dr. Biggs went to work as a civilian dentist on a military base. He spent five years treating active-duty military and veterans. At the end of his tenure on the floor, he returned to Pensacola, where he has held many leadership positions in the Northwest District Dental Association, including president for 2021-22.

Each year as a part of the Awards Luncheon, the FDA takes the opportunity to recognize and thank its current president, with the President’s Award. The 2022-23 FDA President, Dr. Gerald Bird, is an oral and maxillofacial surgeon in Cocoa, Fla. Bird has served in leadership within the Central Florida District Dental Association, the FDA and the ADA for many years in various roles. His passion has always been legislative advocacy for the FDA and ADA. Dr. Bird spent years on the ADA’s Political Action Committee, serving as chair from 2017-18 and on the FDA’s Political Action Committee board. He continues to serve his profession and advocate for all dentists as a legislative contact dentist in Florida while also leading the FDA as president.

One of the FDA’s most prestigious awards is the Dentist of the Year Award. The Dentist of the Year is someone who has demonstrated outstanding service to the association, the profession and the community during the previous year, as well as excellent leadership and people-management skills. The FDA proudly announces that Dr. Cesar R. Sabates is the 2023 Dentist of the Year. Dr. Sabates has served his profession tirelessly for years, committing his life to dentistry and organized dentistry at all tripartite levels. Dr. Sabates is a longtime leader in the South Florida District Dental Association and the FDA, where he served as president from 2011-12. He then served as a trustee to the ADA, culminating in his successful campaign for ADA president-elect. He became the first from Florida and the first Cuban American to win this position. During the past year (2021-22), while serving as ADA President, he worked diligently to enact change and bring about a more inclusive culture at the ADA.

The top honor given by the FDA is the J. Leon Schwartz Lifetime Achievement Award. This honor is reserved for those who have demonstrated dedicated effort and outstanding accomplishments in organized dentistry throughout their career. Nominees for the Lifetime Achievement Award must come from the component society leadership as a part of the vetting process. The FDA is delighted to honor Dr. Kim Jernigan with the 2023 J. Leon Schwartz Lifetime Achievement Award. Dr. Jernigan has served organized dentistry at every level for 35 years, beginning with her time at UFCD, where she was the ASDA president. She represented the FDA in front of the Florida Board of Dentistry as chief liaison for more than nine years. She also served on multiple councils and committees within the FDA, including as chair of the Leadership Development Committee. Dr. Jernigan was the first female president of the FDA, serving from 2012-13. At the national level, Dr. Jernigan was a longtime delegate to the ADA, served as chair for Florida’s delegation, and spent time as an ADA Political Action Committee member and member of the ADA’s Council on Governmental Affairs. Dr. Jernigan is well known in her Northwest District Dental Association and across the state and nation as someone who has led with honor and dignity in her roles in organized dentistry, as well as her professional and personal life.