by Dr. Rob Taylor

Last week I returned from the Midwinter AAO conference in Arizona where I must confess it was an uncomfortably warm 85 degrees :).  The educational conference was preceded by the 1-day annual AAO leadership conference.
Attending these conferences was a nice reminder of just how blessed we are to be orthodontists!  More importantly, it reminded me how important it is to get together with old friends and colleagues.  It may have cost me a few bucks not being in my office, but it was worth every penny seeing old friends!  Finally, it was a good reminder of how great the AAO organization is and what it is doing to advocate for our profession.  I feel a great responsibility to convey this message to membership.
It is critical to remember that the AAO is a membership organization.  It is an advocacy organization.  Its primary purpose is to advocate for the benefit of you as a practicing, real-life orthodontist.  Currently, there are some significant forces and issues affecting the orthodontic world.  Some of these forces–if left unchallenged–could dramatically and negatively alter the basic fabric of our profession and leave us wondering how it all happened???
Direct-to-consumer advertising, do-it–yourself/tele-orthodontics, unregulated advertising and providers, student-loan debt, taxes, and  flexible spending accounts are some of the major issues that have changed, are changing, or have the potential to change.
On a daily basis, whether you think about it or not, the AAO is digging in and fighting for YOUR best interest regarding these issues.  As a reminder, we each save hundreds, if not thousands of dollars each year thanks to the moratorium of the 2.3% medical device tax fought for by the AAO.  Flexible spending accounts too were and are under pressure of change.  Think how dramatically your practice would change if FSA's were reduced? … or increased?  Both are potential options in the future and it is nice to know the AAO is fighting for our cause.   Student loan debt too is a serious concern for the AAO leadership, and they are advocating to lessen the burden for future orthodontists.
The biggest concern of many members in recent years has been the goal to educate (and warn) the public regarding the difference between an orthodontist and a dentist.  The Consumer Awareness Program (CAP) is changing gears in a very positive way and they are seeing dramatic improvements in the effectiveness.  If you haven't seen some of the recent creative ads they have published, take some time and check them out.  Here is one that they posted to Buzzfeed and now the link on facebook alone has over 1.9 million views:
I encourage you to share this link and others on your own office sites.
When I personally login to the AAO member site, it shows that my name has been provided to about 400 people in the last seven months on the orthodontist locator site.  If only one of those people started treatment, it is worth the annual CAP assessment.
Do-it-yourself/teleorthodontics in the form of companies like Smile Direct Club is currently a big concern for many.  Personally, I am not overly concerned that this will significantly alter our practice success in the next several years.  Orthodontists treat about 3 million people in the US annually.  There are 300 million Americans.  How many of those non patients would like a quick fix and don't want to deal with an orthodontist–probably a decent number.  But I don't feel it is going to be a large percent of our current patients.  I think it is mostly a different patient pool.  Even if they do take some of our current patients, they do create an increased general awareness and increase the size of the entire orthodontic pie.  In addition, some of those do-it-yourself cases will end up a mess and will eventually find themselves asking for our help.  I am currently treating a patient who had this experience.  She showed up in my office with a 3 mm posterior open bite and was quick to sign up for legitimate treatment.  While I don't believe the current do-it-yourself model will dramatically alter our practices and patient safety, I am concerned about the future and how it can significantly alter the landscape.  The only way we will even have a voice in shaping the future is a collective one.  Individually, we can do very little, but together we can have a powerful voice.
The AAO recognizes the potential harm these companies pose on unsuspecting patients and the legal team currently has filed complaints in 36 states.  What will come of it?  Not sure yet, but we have a dog in the fight thanks to the AAO.
The final point I want to make is the access the AAO provides for continuing education.  It is nice to be part of online study clubs or watch CE from our living room in nothing but our birthday suit if we want.  However, there is something invigorating, something energizing about organized conferences.  Getting together with people who share our common interests and goals and learning from each other is simply invigorating.  It makes us want to do more, to be better and reminds us why we love this profession.  The perfect mixture of science and art, orthodontics is a phenomenal profession.  That is why it was recently rated the #1 job (for you millennials, that is not a hashtag) in the U.S.
May we move forward together always remembering to give back to this wonderful profession and retain the collective voice we have as an organization by supporting the AAO.

Dr. Taylor is the president of the Utah Association of Orthodontists. This message originally appeared in an email to Utah members on February 23, 2018, and was re-published to all AAO members with permission from Dr. Taylor.