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MyView: Stronger together: Organized dentistry

August 28, 2019

Sharon Parsons, D.D.S.

I would like to say that I am one of those women who has always had her life planned to the last detail and has done everything for the right reasons, but that just isn’t so.  What I did plan was becoming a dentist, and what a wonderful plan that was. Back in the 1970s there weren’t many women dentists.  In fact, I had never seen one in my small town. My mother had the foresight to choose my orthodontist in a much larger city: Columbus, Ohio. Dr. Hull, my orthodontist, took an interest in me and became my mentor.  He gave me insightful advice and helped pave the way for my career. One bit of advice he gave me was to be sure to get involved in organized dentistry because that is what shapes our collective profession. I really never forgot that, but it was in the back of my mind, not at the forefront.  Life gets in the way. Most of us women know that all too well — the struggle for that little bit of time not taken up by your office or your family.

Parsons headshot image
Dr. Parsons
At the beginning of my career I got involved in organized dentistry at the local level with my component dental society, on various councils and attending general membership meetings. But after I had children, it became more difficult, as my husband traveled for his job and I was essentially a single parent through the week. My involvement dropped off, but I always kept my membership. After what seemed like only a couple of years, my children were almost ready to leave home. Perusing the mail at the office one day, I opened the ballot that the Columbus Dental Society sent out. As I carefully went through the names, deciding who I would vote for, I went into shock. There, under the category of candidates for delegate to the Ohio Dental Association, was the name Sharon Parsons. I never put my name in. Well, I thought, I’m safe. No one knows me, and besides, I never supplied them information for my bio. As it turns out, my friend and co-worker Linda, who was president of the Columbus Dental Society at the time, volunteered me.  She thought that I would be a good addition and that I would do the right thing. To my surprise, I was voted in, and that was the start of my organized dentistry journey. No planning at all on my part.

As fate would have it, I enjoyed being involved in the Ohio Dental Association House of Delegates but did not totally understand all the inner workings yet. At our caucus meeting, they were nominating and electing people for positions on councils and committees inside the Ohio Dental Association. They described each committee/council and what it does. After the description of a particular council, it was mentioned that this is a really important council. Before I realized what I was doing, my hand was in the air, and I had nominated myself. What did I know about any of this? Then to my dismay I had to explain to everyone why I would be the best choice. I think I mumbled something about it being time for me to give back. I really don’t remember; it happened so quickly. Once again, totally not planned and for all the wrong reasons. However, I was voted in.

I was so apprehensive about being on this council. All of my self-doubt started bubbling up. What did I know to qualify me for this, and would I make a fool of myself? It certainly does not always work like this, especially for women, but my experience was wonderful. I started off observing and getting the lay of the land. Slowly, I engaged more and found that I was passionate about this. We were discussing all aspects of dental practice and making recommendations to the dental board. We were engaging with third-party payers and advocating for dentists with the insurance companies. I had no idea that organized dentistry did so much, and this was just one council. After a few years of participation, I was voted chair of the council and found that I could be in a leadership position and not choke. Again, not planned but very appreciated.

Today, I am president-elect of the Ohio Dental Association and will become president in October of this year. Only the third woman to fill this position in over 150 years. As luck, or fate, would have it, the other two women are friends of mine. One practiced with me, and the other was my “little sister” in dental school. Both have been nothing short of amazing in their support of me. I am very humbled. I am especially humbled by the inordinate amount of work that our tripartite does for our profession. It is no accident that dentistry has not gone the way of medicine. The American Dental Association has one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington and has championed legislation that has helped both our profession and our patients. Nonmembers tell me that this will happen whether or not they join, so they may as well save their money. But here’s the rub. We (the ADA) only have this power if we represent over 50% of the dentists in the country. No one listens if we represent the minority, and our voice is diminished. We, as entrepreneurs, have benefited in ways too numerous to mention. Many entities hope to control our profession and, by default, our livelihood. I absolutely love being a dentist. I love my work and my patients. I firmly believe that I know better what treatment benefits my patients the most, not a third party. If we lose our voice, we lose that sacred dentist-patient decision-making process. The cost of dues is recouped many times over by all of the benefits provided, not to mention our collective voice.

This is but one aspect of being a dentist, but I firmly believe that without it our profession, as we know it, will forever be changed by others. My involvement may have been by chance but what a lovely, fortunate chance that was.

This editorial, reprinted with permission, originally appeared in Dew.life on April 25 and is available at www.dew.life/2019/04/25/stronger-together-organized-dentistry. Dr. Parsons is the president-elect of the Ohio Dental Association.