On Tuesday, April 5 and Wednesday, April 6, 2022, the American Association of Orthodontists held our annual Professional Advocacy Conference in Washington, D.C. This year, over 75 AAO members participated in the two-day event, which featured presentations from Cozen O’Connor Public Strategies (the AAO’s federal lobbying team), state advocacy partners, AAO staff, members of AAO leadership, a Biden Administration official, and two members of the U.S. House of Representatives. 16 members of Congress met directly with AAO members throughout the event in addition to meetings on Capitol Hill with legislative staffers from both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

“I’m so pleased to have been a part of this year’s Advocacy Conference in our nation’s capital. The schedule was fast-moving, and the impact will be long-lasting. I’m especially happy about the bi-partisan passage of the Ensuring Lasting Smiles Act (ELSA) on Monday, April 4 by the U.S. House of Representatives with a vote of 310 to 110 ” said Dr. Ken Dillehay, DDS, MS, AAO President. “The AAO is here to reassure each member that the AAO’s Advocacy team is on the frontlines of protecting our patients, increasing access to orthodontic care, and working to ease the burden of student loan debt on dental students. The plans for next year’s conference are well underway, and the specialty’s future is bright. “

The AAO members involved in this year’s Conference advocated on behalf of numerous AAO priorities including issues concerning direct-to-consumer or mail-order orthodontics, access to orthodontic care, small business issues and federal student loan relief.

To kick off the Conference, AAO Trustees Dr. Trista Felty, Dr. Michael Sherman, Dr. Ken Dillehay, AAO Director of Advocacy Nathan Mick, AAO CEO Lynne Thomas Gordon and orthodontic resident and AAO student member from the University of Toronto Dr. Mahdis Maleki visited the Canadian embassy and advocated on behalf of the 670 AAO members in Canada. “From our diplomatic meeting at the Canadian Embassy to connecting directly with Members of Congress and all the focused programming in between, I am proud to be part of the advocacy efforts AAO continues to lead for patient health and safety and our members,” said Dr. Maleki.

On Tuesday night, following advocacy presentations and training, the AAO welcomed several members of Congress to a reception and dinner that was highlighted by keynotes from Congresswoman Angie Craig (D-MN) and Congressman John Joyce (R-PA). Craig and Joyce highlighted their bipartisan cooperation in Congress and thanked the AAO members for their support and non-partisan advocacy. Other Congressional attendees included Representatives Buddy Carter, Mike Simpson, Marianette Miller Meeks, Jeff Van Drew, Virginia Foxx, Brian Babin, Mike Burgess and Andy Barr and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.

On Wednesday, before AAO members headed to the House and Senate office buildings for in-person meetings, Congressmen Brian Fitzpatrick and Josh Gottheimer addressed the participants. As co-chairs of the House Problem Solvers Caucus, Fitzpatrick and Gottheimer are leading “an independent member-driven group in Congress, comprised of representatives from across the country – equally divided between Democrats and Republicans – committed to finding common ground on many of the key issues facing the nation.”

Mr. Rajesh D. Nayak also addressed the participants in-person before the Wednesday visits to Capitol Hill. Nayak was confirmed in November 2021 to be the Assistant Secretary for Policy in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Policy (OASP) at the United States Department of Labor. Raj previously served in a range of senior roles at the Department during Obama-Biden Administration, including as the Secretary’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy, and Senior Counsel to the Solicitor. In his remarks at the Professional Advocacy Conference, Nayak discussed labor shortage-related issues and took questions from AAO members.

New to this year’s event, residents organized table dialogue for all participants on the future of AAO advocacy and this feature was led by Dr. Remington Richardson, orthodontic resident at Indiana University. The AAO also opened registration to Canadian orthodontic residents, resulting in increased participation among AAO Student Members. Orthodontic resident and AAO member, Dr. Victoria Diggs was a first-time participant in the Professional Advocacy Conference and was eager to advocate for additional options for student loan relief on Capitol Hill. “As a resident, I’m really interested in and concerned about the student loan debt burden. Having gone through college, dental school, and now residency and having to fund all that through student loans, it’s something that’s always in the back of my mind in terms of how I’m going to pay all of that back.”

Chair of the Professional Advocacy Conference, Dr. Dale Anne Featheringham was especially pleased with the active participation of AAO members and their ownership of AAO advocacy efforts. “I was impressed by the countless AAO volunteers and orthodontic residents who worked enthusiastically to help promote the specialty and ensure the quality of care for our orthodontic patients,” said Dr. Featheringham. “Witnessing colleagues’ camaraderie in the nation’s capital only strengthens my view on the future of the specialty. Each person came to D.C. to help increase access to orthodontic care and help practitioners build strong, sustainable businesses.”