By: Vanessa Browne, DDS
With the continued rise of educational debt, many dental students are graduating with difficult financial decisions to make. The job market is saturated, many are getting married and starting families, high monthly loan payments are around the corner, and many also are craving delayed gratification for eight or more years of very hard work. It is natural, then, for some to make the decision to delay all unnecessary costs. For some recent graduates, the choice has been to forgo membership in the American Dental Association, the Oregon Dental Association, and their local dental society as a means to save money as they are establishing themselves in the dental community. However, I believe this is the worst choice that a new dentist can make. The benefits of being a member of our dental societies far outweigh the cost.
Dental societies function as a tripartite membership. This means when you become a member, you hold membership at three levels: the national level (American Dental Society), the state level (Oregon Dental Association), and the local level (Oregon has 17 local dental societies). More than 71% of Oregon’s dentists belong to the ODA. While this is an impressive number, the opposite number is staggering. 29% of dentists in Oregon are practicing without the support, network, protection, community, and education that being a dental society member provides. I believe that joining your dental society is a commitment to continued growth as a professional. Here are just a few ways that organized dentistry can help you:
Upon graduation, many new dentists begin working and sometimes lose connections with classmates and the dental community. This is understandable as starting a practice, joining a practice, or becoming an associate is a time-consuming process. However, this is a missed opportunity to seek advice from mentors, learn practice management and clinical techniques from peers, empathize or share experiences among colleagues, and network for leadership, professional, or career opportunities. There are over 2,100 dentist members in the ODA, and 9 staff at ODA working to help provide information, answer questions, and support the profession.
A portion of the dues paid to the dental societies goes to supporting and protecting the profession. This includes lobbying for specific dental issues. A few of the recent issues facing dentistry include eliminating national license testing with a push toward portfolio licensure for dentists, educating legislators about the negative effect the new medical device tax will have on the cost of oral health care, impeding insurance companies from dictating rates for treatment that insurance does not cover, and providing alternative solutions to the proposed mid-level provider model.
Serving the Community
Being a part of the dental society gives dentists many opportunities to give back to the community. Not only does organized dentistry help educate the public about oral health and the importance of seeking dental care, but it also serves to advocate for changes such as water fluoridation, increased funding for research, dental care for underserved populations and public health initiatives, and increased insurance coverage for dental services. Beyond this, there are opportunities for dental professionals to volunteer in the community through events like Mission of Mercy (November 24-27, 2013) and Give Kids a Smile (February).
Every dental society hosts at least one conference a year with a collection of continuing education courses and a vendor showcase with member discounts. Also available throughout the rest of the year are additional continuing education courses, leadership training, and numerous publications. The Oregon Dental Association publishes its newsletter “Membership Matters” and this blog “The Tooth of the Matter.” The American Dental Association has its own journal “Journal of the American Dental Association” and newsletter “ADA News”. Beyond education for members, these dental societies also provide numerous public health resources and patient education tools that can be used in your office.
Dental societies offer three specific resources for career protection: Insurance for your personal and practice needs, peer review, and a well-being committee. The ADA sponsors life and disability insurance plans at a reduced rate for members. Other dental societies also endorse malpractice insurance companies and other necessary insurance providers. Peer Review is a process by which patients and third party payers can voice concerns or disputes that are resolved by a collection of your colleagues. This allows the dentist and patient to have dental care evaluated in a non-combative environment at a local level. These issues are often resolved at this level and do not have a need to progress to a lawsuit. The Well Being Committee offers dentists who struggle with alcohol and controlled substances an opportunity to get back on track without losing his or her license.
The ADA and ODA have endorsed programs of products or services and often offer discounts to members. All of the dental societies also have several opportunities to seek employment or place classified ads. These are sometimes the first place individuals will look. Both the ADA and ODA help with patient referrals by listing your practice information on their websites and when patients seek dental care in a certain area, the staff will refer to its members. Additionally, the ADA has a professional product review that provides unbiased dental product information that is scientifically sound, clinically relevant, and user friendly. The ADA also has a center for Evidenced Based dentistry that provides research and gives you access to systematic reviews. Using both of these resources, organized dentistry allows dental professionals to make informed decisions about their practice.
So How Much Will This Cost You?
The dental societies realize that new dentists are graduating with enormous debt loans. To decrease the burden of membership dues, the American Dental Association and most dental societies structure their dues on a graduated scale over 5 years. Usually, membership in the first year in practice is free. This means that even if you don’t know where you are going to practice, it is beneficial to join to have access to this wealth of resources. At the national level, dues are 25% of full national dues your 2nd year in practice, 50% your 3rd year in practice, 75% your fourth year in practice, and 100% your fifth year in practice. State and local dental societies have a similar system. There are also member get a member discounts to encourage dentists to invite their colleagues to join. Depending on your location, full dues for tripartite membership by your fifth year vary from $900 to $1,800. Students who pursue graduate training also have a reduced rate of $30 for national dues and begin the reduced dues five-year program when their graduate education is complete.
Being a member of organized dentistry can lead to career opportunities, referral connections, educational opportunities, practice management support, risk management answers, reduced rates on endorsed products, unbiased and scientific information on clinical products, support at the legislative level, license protection with peer review, social opportunities, and more. The small cost of membership is worth a lifetime of benefits.
How Do I Get Involved?
The best way to get involved in your dental society is to visit the websites and read the newsletters for upcoming events. It is best to start with your local dental society. Look for New Dentist events, Continuing Education courses, opportunities to be a mentor/mentee, or upcoming conferences such as the Oregon Dental Conference or the American Dental Association New Dentist Conference. There are also numerous opportunities to volunteer with events like the ODA Mission of Mercy (November 24-27, 2013) and Give Kids a Smile (held annually in February).
Check out the following website for more information:
Vanessa Browne, D.D.S, is a 2012 Loma Linda University Dental Graduate who is currently in her orthodontic residency at Oregon Health and Sciences University in Portland, OR. She is a member of the California Dental Association, the Oregon Dental Association, the American Dental Association, the American Association of Orthodontists, and the Pacific Coast Society of Orthodontists. As a dental student, Vanessa held numerous roles as a leader in organized dentistry including the chair of the California Dental Association student delegation. She is passionate about encouraging dental students and new dentists to join organized dentistry. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org