Our annual list of dentistry’s most influential people is led by someone who made it his purpose to change the way insurance operates. Maybe we should also focus on changing how people think of it.

IT’S EASY TO pick on insurance companies, and often they deserve it. Yet dental plans play an undeniable role in encouraging patients to see their doctor regularly. Even staunch critics don’t want dental insurance to go away—they simply say they want a fairer deal.

However, calling most dental plans “insurance” seems like, at best, an overpromise. Maybe that’s part of the problem. Choosing (or mandating) a more honest name could be a small but worthwhile first step toward helping patients better understand how limi­ted their coverage is when contrasted with, well, just about anything else you might think of as insurance.

It wasn’t always this way. In this issue, award-winning author and New York Times contri­butor Mark Caro drills down on dental insurance. It’s sobering, perhaps even shocking, to trace how far it has strayed from its well-meaning roots, back when a $1,500 annual benefit ceiling was plenty for even extensive care. His report puts things in perspective and reveals what needs to happen for meaningful change to occur nationwide.

Which brings us to this year’s ranking of the 32 Most Influential People in Dentistry. Our editorial team’s unanimous choice for the top spot is a disrupter in the truest sense. Dr. Mouhab Rizkallah, an orthodontist, has already successfully taken on dental insurance companies in his home state of Massachusetts despite powerful pushback from providers.

This is Dr. Rizkallah’s first appearance on our list and, if he has it his way, also his last. We’re certain he’s hoping to be replaced in 2024 by new people taking up his fight in other states. (“It’s never been about me,” he told us.) In fact, the ball is already rolling. Several states have introduced medical loss ratio legislation at the urging of state dental societies and the ADA, and at press time, Rhode Island was moving in that direction. We’ll be watching closely, and as always, rooting for doctors and patients nationwide.

We’re also proud to introduce our 2023 Hygienist of the Year, Philadelphia’s Jessica Jean-Burton. Like Dr. Rizkallah, she’s no stranger to sacrificing substantial sweat, plus her own money, to make a difference. Her young nonprofit, Nurturing Smiles, is dedicated to advancing oral care for underserved women and children by addressing mothers as a focal point. She’s off to a remarkably fast and determined start, already a positive influencer in her community.

Every year, it seems like the stakes in dentistry get higher. Our latest list of the industry’s 32 Most Influential is populated by perhaps the most fascinating group yet, all of whom are poised to make a profound impact on everything from dental research and technology to business and culture. Whether you support them or oppose them, you need to know their names. As Dr. Rizkallah shows us, all it takes is one person to potentially change the course of dentistry. ■