All of Your Voices Count! Even the quiet ones…

Becky O'Guin Featured News

By Leah Schulz, D.D.S. 

From the Summer 2023 Journal of The Colorado Dental Association  

Hello CDA members! I’m Dr. Leah Schulz, your new CDA president. I’m excited for the opportunity to serve you in this capacity and am looking forward to working alongside many of you to continue to advance our profession this coming year.

As a brief introduction, I am your first community health CDA president, as well as your first CDA president to have graduated from dental school less than 10 years ago, which the ADA categorizes as a “new dentist.” This combination for a president would be unheard of in some other states, but not here in Colorado! Thank you for promoting diversity in your leadership.

My practice experience varies from a lot of yours. My work history includes practicing in a DSO, a university and, for the past nearly eight years, the public health sector.

I’m proud to be a general dentist at Salud Family Health, a Federally Qualified Health Center, where I get to teach predoctoral and dental residents, and work alongside physicians, pharmacists, and behavioral health specialists to provide high quality, integrated, collocated, full scope, comprehensive care to ALL patients, regardless of their residency status, race, ethnicity, creed, gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, insurance coverage, or ability to pay, at our 10 dental clinics across the state.

For the past four years, I’ve worked alongside many of you on the CDA Board of Trustees, Government Relations Council, Colorado Dental Political Action Committee (CODPAC), as an Action Team Leader, on various task forces, at both state and national lobby days, and on Membership Council.

My goals as president are built upon the CDA’s foundational principles: our mission and vision. The CDA’s mission is to be the professional association of dentists that fosters the success of a diverse membership and advances the oral health of the public. Our vision is that we are the recognized leading advocate for oral health in Colorado. We will never go wrong if we lean into these. This year I hope to create and implement ways to foster the success of a diverse membership through proactive member recruitment and retention, and enhanced transparency and communication between members, leaders and staff. I also aim to be the leading advocate for oral health in Colorado and advancing the oral health of the public by continuing to build a strong advocacy network.

That being said, I am one person, for one year. These goals can only be accomplished through collaboration. I have my own expertise and experience, but I need all of yours too, because members drive this membership-based professional association. Be a part of building the association today that you want for tomorrow!

You may be asking, “how can I help?” Well, I’m so glad you asked!

A lot of our recruitment and retention efforts can be distilled down to steps that every member can take: build personal relationships with non-members and members alike, and contribute to the association community.

For non-members, talk to them about your personal experiences in the CDA; tell them what you love about the association, what our association can offer them at all stages of their career, and extend a personal invite for them to join you at the next CDA event or introduce them to other CDA members. Also, understand and embrace the fact that new dentists are entering a dental world far different than many of you experienced. Over the last two decades, fewer and fewer dentists are working as solo practitioners or owning practices, and more and more are gravitating to group practices and other non-traditional practice models such as community health, the military, academia, and research. According to the ADA, Colorado is tied with Texas and Arizona for second in the nation for the highest percentage of dentists affiliated with a DSO and Colorado has the highest percentage of mid-career dentists practicing in DSOs in the nation.

While the ADA’s and CDA’s official stance is to welcome all dentists, regardless of practice type, some dentists continue to rely on stereotypes and spread falsities about these practice models. Our field has normalized offensive rhetoric that puts down the choices and devalues the quality of work that our non-private practice colleagues provide. I challenge you to make a concerted effort to create personal connections with and better understand dentists from ALL practice models. It is only then that we can create a state association that fosters the success of a diverse membership that’s genuinely welcoming for ALL dentists.

As for retaining the amazing dentists we already have, the association will strive to make our members aware of the many relevant and meaningful membership benefits that exist and constantly explore opportunities for other member benefits. We also want and need more CDA members to get involved in the work of the association. The CDA markets all of the efforts, progress, successes, opportunities, updates, and goals in a variety of ways, to try to appeal to everyone, but we find sometimes that our members still feel out of the loop. When members perceive that the association is withholding information or feel as though they are not well connected, misinformation circulates, distrust breeds, and members disengage.

We need to improve the communication and transparency between our member dentists and our Board of Trustees, Executive Committee, and the staff to foster the success of our diverse membership. This year, we will take several steps to help you stay “in the know” and make it easier to get involved.

In the coming months, the website will be updated to include an interactive organization chart, with comprehensive information related to all the various councils, committees, task forces, workgroups, boards, etc. within the CDA. Information will be provided about what these groups do and why they exist, contact information for their chairs, a roster of their active members, opportunities for involvement, and their upcoming meetings and events.

We’re also piloting two new routes of non-written communication that we hope will increase transparency and create a stronger, better informed CDA community.

The first will be a series of short video messages called “Tooth Be Told,” which will run every several weeks and feature CDA updates, highlight member benefits, raise awareness of upcoming events, and keep members apprised of CDA-policy and advocacy progress.

The second will be monthly, hour-long, ZOOM! “Community Roundtable” discussions, which will include a brief update of association happenings, and then create a space where membership can talk to representatives of the CDA staff, board, and Executive Committee about whatever they want (within reason, of course).

By developing and maintaining a solid, diverse, engaged membership base, we also become more effective in achieving the other aspect of our mission and vision: that the CDA can and should be the leading advocate for oral health in Colorado and advance the oral health of the public. To stay true to our vision of being the leading advocate for oral health, we must build and maintain strong, diverse membership involvement in advocacy and recommit to ALL doing our part.

Our member dentists consistently rank advocacy as one of their most important “member benefits.” Insurance reform typically tops the charts, with “workforce” a close second. Most of our insurance reform efforts have centered around Medicaid, and we’ve been very successful in this space, with all these efforts culminating in the ultimate success this year: eliminating the Medicaid adult dental cap. However, this year our membership’s number one legislative priority was private payer third party reform, so that is where we invested the lion’s share of our political might.

SB23-179, the Dental Insurance Transparency Bill, was the first step in a multi-phase, multi-year approach to increase transparency on dental insurance plan spending. By defining a Dental Loss Ratio reporting structure and requiring insurance companies to report how many premium dollars go to patient care, we can better understand and begin to make a case for how to maximize patient benefits in the coming years. Everyone wins when there’s transparency in this space!

According to the ADA’s Health Policy Institute, about 80% of Americans have dental insurance. Dental insurance equates to access to care for the overwhelming majority of Americans and many of our dentists rely on insurance. In fact, the Colorado Health Institute reported recently that Coloradans with dental coverage were more than twice as likely to have used dental services in the past year than Coloradans without dental insurance. This means that dental insurance is a big part of oral health access! Access benefits your entire community, not just the patients and, as dentists, we should always be part of the solution for quality oral health care for all.

At the CDA, we are committed to advancing the oral health of the public. We must come to the table acknowledging that insurance companies are a part of the oral health access solution and so are we. Therefore, we need to work together to do things like reduce administrative burdens, create better policy, and improve reimbursement rates, which will help us meet our mission and do what we do best: advancing the public’s oral health.

I encourage all those who are interested to commit your time and energy to this matter. It will continue to take many voices and conversations in addition to other advocacy work at both the state and national levels. I would love a huge attendance at out 2024 CDA Lobby Day, advocacy messages through our email campaigns to legislators, and more to achieve our legislative goals. I want to hear ALL your voices through the clamor, including the quiet ones!

Your CDA Executive Committee, Board of Trustees and staff will be working tirelessly this year on behalf of you and the association. I challenge you to think about how you will advance the association this year. Will you commit to fostering the success of a diverse membership through member recruitment or retention, by building a relationship with a non-member or reaching out to a member who is no longer as engaged? Will you help improve our CDA community by speaking openly with the CDA leadership and staff at our monthly Community Roundtables or watching our video messaging? Will you be a leading advocate for oral health in Colorado by attending our Lobby Day, responding to emailed advocacy pushes, becoming an Action Team Leader, or donating to CODPAC? Will you join a task force, council or committee that needs your specific expertise or experience?

If you’re interested in becoming involved this year, please scan the QR code and let me know where you’d like to volunteer. We need ALL of you to build the association today that you want for the future.