By the AAO Council on New and Younger Members

In the September 2021 issue of the American Journal of Orthodontics & Dentofacial Orthopedics (AJO-DO), Drs. Christopher Riolo and James Vaden contributed an article entitled, “Taking control of our workflow and data.” The article began with the following assertion regarding younger orthodontists:

“Through experience teaching and interacting with orthodontic residents, we have noticed that attitudes toward organized dentistry in general and the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO) in particular have changed over time. Many younger orthodontists do not perceive a positive cost-benefit analysis with respect to AAO membership. Some perceive greater value in an orthodontic Facebook group than membership in the AAO. Although we do not like this paradigm, we must acknowledge it exists. Part of the problem is almost certainly a lack of effective communication with these orthodontists about the value of AAO membership. In addition, the AAO needs to urgently develop ways to add value to the membership for this next generation of orthodontists.”

With due respect to the opinions of Drs. Riolo and Vaden, we of the AAO Council on New and Younger Members (CONYM) – which represents all AAO members less than 10 years removed from residency, as well as current orthodontic residents – feel it is important to address these sentiments.

Early in our orthodontic residencies – often before residency even began – the AAO invited us to join as Student Members. Doing so made many of us feel part of something “bigger” – part of a profession where we can change lives. For this and many other reasons, the AAO has been an integral part of our early careers. It has been fundamental in exposing each of us to numerous opportunities that impact our clinical and academic experiences.

Nearly every orthodontic residency program across North America designates a resident who serves as an AAO “champion”, a conduit of information between the AAO and residents. In recent years, this has been crucial in transferring important information relative to the AAO mission and resources, demonstrating the AAO’s value not only during residency, but throughout our orthodontic careers. For example, many residents are recipients of AAO grants that provide necessary funding for research projects, which help us earn our degrees and further scientific knowledge in orthodontics. In addition, some of us found our first orthodontic positions through the AAO, whether through the Orthodontic Career Fair held at the AAO Annual Session or the online Career Center, an unparalleled resource for career opportunities across the country. 

Beyond the Career Fair, new and younger members recognize the AAO Annual Session as the crown jewel of AAO offerings. The Annual Session allows opportunities to earn CE, get a first-hand look at emerging technology in the specialty and network with new colleagues from around the country and even the world. With evolving technology and the effects of the global pandemic, the AAO has been able to adapt by providing CE virtually to orthodontists and residents, which is appreciated and valued.  

Regarding finances, new and younger members find value in the AAO in this area, as well. Being aware of the increasing costs of dental and orthodontic education, the AAO makes a strong effort to make membership affordable as residents graduate and transition to practice. This is done by reducing membership dues during the first four years of membership, including a 90% reduction the first year! The AAO website provides access to carefully vetted forms and releases, practice management tools, practice marketing tools, and discounts on orthodontic products. The AAO has also negotiated with SoFi (Social Finance, Inc.) to provide even greater savings to members who qualify for consolidation and re-financing of their student loans with a 0.25% interest rate discount. The AAO regularly releases live webinars, in addition to on-demand recordings, some of which are free to members through the Business of Orthodontics series. 

No less important is the AAO’s tireless work to advocate for all orthodontists by sending representatives to state dental board meetings to inform the board members of the critical role of the orthodontist in the clinical oversight and management of orthodontic treatment. The knowledge of key staff members of the association is positioned to maximize members’ contributions to protect the specialty at both a national and state/provincial level in a way that is not possible for individual orthodontists. 

Perhaps one of the most critical aspects of becoming an orthodontist is mentorship. Most orthodontists can think of one or more mentors in their lives who shaped them into the doctor they are today. The AAO has developed a new online mentoring program, AAO Connections, which allows all members to leverage the expertise of practicing orthodontists who are willing to share their time.  

The AAO is not just an association; it is made up of people who are passionate about helping people. The AAO was built by its past members and run by the service and volunteer work of its current members. As new and younger orthodontists, we recognize and appreciate the role that AAO plays in our lives and our careers, as well as the role we play in unifying the specialty through our own AAO membership. Rest assured, the future of the association is bright with many optimistic and hardworking advocates leading the way.


AAO’s Council on New and Younger Members

Dr. Brandon Shoukri, Chair (GLAO)

Dr. Mary Lanier Zaytoun Berne (SAO)

Dr. Mary Hoffman (PCSO)

Dr. Kevin Kurtzner (RMSO)

Dr. Christos Papadopoulos (NESO)

Dr. David White (SWSO)

Dr. Lauren Wiese (MASO)

Dr. Emily Willett (MSO)

Dr. Abbey Janssen, Resident

Dr. Kyla Swearingen, Resident

Dr. Alexandra Pischke Thomas, Trustee Liaison