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MyView: A letter from a new dentist

January 16, 2012

By Jim Gleason, D.D.S.

Our medical colleagues are in trouble. It is no secret that ever since the introduction of health maintenance organizations in the 1960s, physicians have been ceding control of their profession to forces outside of it. Be it insurance companies or government, the people making decisions that affect their profession are seldom the doctors themselves or the American Medical Association.

Even with an upswing in membership, the AMA still boasts less than 25 percent of physicians as members.

As dentists practicing during this same period, we have largely (although not totally) avoided the fate of our physician compatriots. Paramount among the reasons that we have been able to do this is the strength of the American Dental Association.

Whether contesting the mandatory installation of amalgam separators to the most current debate over midlevel providers, the ADA has advocated for the good of our profession. And who is the ADA? It is every one of us.

So, why is the New Dentist Committee so important today? Back in the golden days, membership in the ADA was assumed. You joined because it was expected of you as a dental professional. My generation and those around it (Generation X, Generation Y and millennials) are all about value. We have choices, we know it, and we want the people competing for our market to know it.

New dentists are starting out with record amounts of student loan debt that most of us grapple with at the same time that we are getting married, buying our first homes and having our children. In addition, we are trying to piece together a four- to five-day schedule while trying to pay for it all. How can we be expected to see the value in membership when those tripartite dues come in the mail every year?

I will tell you. Let’s forget the fact that membership pays for itself. Forget that the discounts that you get with endorsed insurance or other endorsed programs more than cover the cost of the annual dues. Forget that when you open your first office, the ADA has manuals that will lead you through, step-by-step, what I like to call "things you never knew you never knew you needed" to run an office. You can even forget about the things like peer review that provide avenues to deal with disgruntled patients, but are only available to member dentists.

No, let’s forget all of that because in the end, there are still fights to be fought and wars to be waged over who is in control of our profession.

Have you seen a whitening kiosk set up in your local mall or, gasp, a tanning salon?

Yes, it is happening, and NO, I do not know how nonlicensed people are providing carbamide peroxide in an uncontrolled environment. Has your best hygienist left your practice to start his or her own hygiene clinic? It could happen. And how many hours did you spend in preclinic learning how to perform irreversible surgical procedures before even thinking about trying it on a human being? Can you imagine anyone other than a DDS or DMD performing these procedures? I know it sounds crazy, but some states are already pushing for it. We need to keep the ADA tripartite strong and new, and younger dentists are the gateway to the future. My message to all new dentists is that your membership is important now, not just when times get tough. Every day, the ADA demonstrates its value and we need your participation. Otherwise, we may soon find ourselves treading down the same path as our physician friends.

Now that you know my mission, can I count on you to help me fulfill it?

Dr. Gleason practices orthodontics in Webster, N.Y. A 2006 graduate of the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine, he is the chair of the 7th District Dental Society of New York’s New and Younger Dentist Committee and a member of the New York State Dental Association’s New Dentist Committee. His comments, reprinted here with permission, were originally shared with members of the 7th District Dental Society in December 2011.

Editor’s note: New dentist members of the ADA can learn more about the Association’s advocacy activities and practice resources by visiting ADA.org. Nonmembers are encouraged to contact their state dental society or the ADA New Dentist Committee at 1-312-440-2779 for more information about membership. Members and nonmembers alike are encouraged to contact the NDC for a free copy of the New Dentist Resource Kit, which contains brochures, charts and flyers that are a springboard to the many benefits and resources available to new dentist and dental student members.

The ADA New Dentist Conference is tailored specifically for the needs of dentists who graduated from dental school less than 10 years ago. For information on this year’s conference, see story, page 7.