The AAO Political Action Committee (AAOPAC) reached its Fiscal Year 2022-23 aspirational goal of $400,000 by the May 31 deadline, raising $427,851 after having broken the all-time record earlier in the spring by surpassing $373,775 in annual AAOPAC contributions.

AAOPAC begins the 2023-24 fiscal year under new leadership as Dr. Deborah J. Lien begins her term as chair of the AAOPAC Board of Directors. Dr. Lien succeeds Dr. Clark Colville, who served as AAOPAC chair from 2021-23. Dr. Lien is the first woman to serve as AAOPAC Chair since the PAC’s founding in 1994.

“AAOPAC is our sole committee that raises money to help fuel our orthodontic advocacy priorities for legislative and regulatory affairs,” says Dr. Lien. “If we don’t use our voice through AAOPAC, we do not have a voice.  Our staff are compiling data from the last year, and I am thrilled to use this data to drive our campaign to new levels and effectively reach AAO members in all demographic groups so that we keep our momentum going.

“My goal is to keep the numbers of new donors rising, ask more of those of us who have given on a regular basis, and prove to our new residents and young practicing doctors that AAOPAC has superior value that they cannot ignore,” adds Dr. Lien. “We need all AAO members to donate, not just the 4 percent of us carrying 100 percent of the financial burden for AAO Advocacy as AAOPAC contributors. It is no longer sustainable for the AAO to not have the majority of members donate on behalf of our great specialty.”

Dr. Lien has been a member of the AAOPAC Board of Directors since 2020 and previously served for six years on the AAO Council on Governmental Affairs (COGA). She is a past president of the Midwestern Society of Orthodontists (MSO) and of the Minnesota Association of Orthodontists, and a past vice-chair of the AAO House of Delegates. 

One Voice for Orthodontic Patients and Practices
A dedicated advocate for the orthodontic specialty and for patient concerns such as raising the Flexible Spending Account (FSA) cap, Dr. Lien has learned to navigate the political world at the state and federal levels. Her efforts have included fund-raising for candidates on both sides of the aisle who were committed to addressing public policy concerns of the orthodontic specialty, and frequent attendance at the annual AAO Professional Advocacy Conference.

“My feeling is we have to work together to secure our profession,” says Dr. Lien. “We hear the saying, ‘a stroke of the pen in legislation can change our lives and those of our patients dramatically.’ I have found this is so true in both positive and negative ways. I love this profession and have found that being part of advocacy is one of the strongest ways to support our field. 

“Our patients, employees and practices only have one source to speak for them,” adds Dr. Lien. “That source is you and I showing why our patients are being harmed by not seeing an orthodontist in person before they begin treatment, or why we are seeing patients with rampant caries and underlying periodontal disease in orthodontic care with little or no oversight by a professional.  If this upsets you as it does me, then it is up to us to bring it to the attention of our legislators, state Boards of Dentistry, attorneys general and regulatory agencies like the FTC and FDA.”

An Almost Lifelong Political Advocate
Dr. Lien received her dental degree from the University of Minnesota and completed the orthodontic residency program at the Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Medicine in Rochester. By the time she was ready to enter orthodontic practice in Blooming Prairie, Minnesota, she already had years of experience helping with grassroots advocacy for legislation favorable to small farms.

“My parents own a small farm and we fought for us, our neighbors and friends to be able to continue raising hogs, cattle, sheep and other livestock on free range as well as planting grains without corporate involvement,” says Dr. Lien.  “I continue to champion our small farms as I work on my AAO duties. My heart is in the land and the people just as it is in my practice and my patients.”

Among the most rewarding advocacy initiatives for the orthodontic specialty that stand out in Dr. Lien’s mind are efforts to help practices during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

“We advocated for small business relief, including the Paycheck Protection Program, in the various COVID relief legislative packages,” says Dr. Lien. “This allowed us to pay our staff rather than having to lay everyone off during the shutdown and during the slow first few weeks after the shutdown.”

Dr. Lien’s work and leadership have received widespread recognition including the University of Minnesota Distinguished Alumni Award and the MSO Earl Shepard Distinguished Service Award. She has found, however, that getting to know colleagues throughout the country is one of the greatest benefits of advocacy volunteerism.

“Meeting so many wonderful, like-minded people who wish to support and improve the lives of our patients and the tone of our practices is very rewarding,” she says. “COGA and AAOPAC hold important positions within the AAO. I have been blessed and fortunate to be a part of these hard-working groups and to gain lifelong friends and colleagues who continue to add joy, knowledge, passion and expertise to my life. 

“As chair of AAOPAC, I feel immense gratitude that a path has been laid by colleagues who came before me,” Dr. Lien continues. “I want to especially thank Dr. Clark Colville for his leadership as AAOPAC Chair and a record-breaking year.”

Dr. Lien lives in Rochester, Minnesota with her husband, Dale Norell. They enjoy family life with their two adult children and three grandchildren.