Leaders and staff of the AAO gathered in Washington, D. C. on January 26, the day before the start of the annual Professional Advocacy Conference, to meet with representatives of corporate dental groups. In September 2013, the AAO Board of Trustees called for formation of strategic partnerships that will help the AAO leverage its advocacy and consumer awareness efforts and develop programs and services for members working in non-traditional practice models.

The strategic partnerships initiative comes in the wake of the 2012 AAO Member Practice Environment Survey. The survey results indicated nearly 32 percent of members in practice for less than five years entered the specialty as employees of large corporations and multidisciplinary practices offering orthodontic services. Currently, 26 percent of members in practice for fewer than five years are employed by large corporations and multidisciplinary practices.

The corporate dental groups represented at the meeting with the AAO included American Dental Partners, Apple Orthodontics, Great Expressions Dental Centers, OrthoSynetics, Pacific Dental Services, Braces by Burris and Arkansas Braces. The companies are all either employers of orthodontists or administrative organizations that manage business functions of orthodontic or multi-specialty dental practices that employ orthodontists.

The meeting included discussion of the many changing conditions impacting dental practice and dental specialty practice. The AAO also provided information about concerns of AAO members and resources and services provided by the AAO, via three presentations:

● Following on the heels of a series of desk-side visits with national media editors by Dr. Gayle Glenn, AAO president, and representatives of the AAO public relations firm, Visintine & Ryan PR, the firm’s representatives participated in a presentation at the corporate dental groups meeting. The desk-side visits, which took place in New York City January 23 and 24, were meetings about possible future coverage of orthodontic topics. Visintine and Ryan joined representatives of the AAO’s advertising agency, Athorn Clark and Partners, in a joint presentation on the AAO Consumer Awareness Program (paid advertising in national media outlets), initiatives to secure editorial coverage in media outlets (public relations) and consumer-targeted online presence (mylifemysmile.org). The presentation focused on how each element of consumer outreach has a central goal of educating the public about the benefits of orthodontic treatment by an orthodontist. Specific Consumer Awareness Program ads and examples of editorial coverage in Good Housekeeping, New Beauty.com were presented. Examples of the many Consumer Awareness Program resources such as patient testimonial videos, results of a consumer survey of adult orthodontic patients, social media tools and other items were discussed. The presentation also addressed the continuous market tracking study conducted for the AAO by independent researcher Millward Brown since 2010.

● AAO Executive Director Chris Vranas gave a presentation on trends in dentistry and orthodontics that are expected to impact how services are delivered. The presentation addressed the growth in large, multi-site practices, the slowdown in dental spending and decreased demand for dental services by adults under age 50, the consumer focus on cost and other factors. In orthodontics specifically, a recent American Dental Association survey indicated visits to orthodontists by children have declined over the past 12 years, although more recent AAO data suggest a slight uptick. Discussing the need for marketing to help overcome these obstacles, Mr. Vranas reviewed the AAO Consumer Awareness Program (CAP) and asked the corporate representatives for input on how AAO consumer communications should evolve to address the trends in dentistry. The presentation concluded with an overview of AAO educational and practice management resources.

● The AAO’s legislative Counsel, Patton Boggs LLP, also gave a presentation that addressed how AAO leaders and Patton-Boggs monitor the federal legislative process to ensure that any proposed laws that could negatively impact the practice of orthodontics are included in the AAO advocacy program. Patton-Boggs joins leaders of the AAO in educating legislators and their staff members on the AAO’s position on each key issue. U.S.-based AAO members are informed about each problematic proposed law and asked to contact their legislators to express their concerns about how the laws would impact orthodontic practices. The presentation also addressed the current goals of educating members of Congress about the unique role that orthodontists play in health care and repealing or increasing the current $2,500 per year cap on Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs), which are tax-sheltered accounts that many orthodontic patients and parents use to help finance orthodontic treatment. The presentation also addressed legislative successes of the AAO advocacy program in recent years, including the exclusion of small business health providers from Consumer Financial Protection Bureau oversight (an amendment to the Dodd-Frank Act).