Down the Rabbit Hole

Becky O'GuinFeatured News

By Molly Pereira, CDA Executive Director
From the Autumn 2023 Journal of the Colorado Dental Association

Molly Pereira

I was on social media the other day and came across a post from one of the dental groups I follow. The dentist who posted simply asked, “Do I really need to be a member of the American Dental Association? Please list benefits only.”

I went down the rabbit hole of comments and for every enthusiastic “YES!” there was a comment that questioned the necessity of even being a member. Those who spoke in favor of organized dentistry cited that the biggest benefit the ADA provides is advocacy. The next comments challenged, “Why be a member if advocacy benefits all dentists? Non-members benefit just as much when legislation benefits the profession.”

The thread bothered me, and I kept reading more and more comments until my Garmin watch buzzed and flashed: “Your stress level is unusually high. Take a moment to breathe and relax.” I hate it when my apps think they’re the boss of me and tell me what do, but I did close social media and walked away. My Garmin is rarely wrong (but don’t read that last part out loud, it’s probably listening).

I have two points to make in this column:

  1. There is a place for every dentist in the CDA and the tripartite.
  2. Membership matters, representation matters and without every dentist understanding that, advocacy will soon cease to benefit every dentist.

Embrace a Culture of Respect and Acceptance

It doesn’t matter if you lean right or left politically. It doesn’t matter what practice type/specialty you are. And it doesn’t matter what practice model you choose after dental school. Here’s what matters and here’s what all dentists have in common: You became a dentist to help people and to make people healthy. You care about your patients being treated fairly by payors and having access to care. Everyone started at this same “square one.” Then, as people progressed to additional education or to various practice models, things got blurry and priorities shifted. Outside influences – human nature, payors, regulation, finances, business plans, life, etc. – added pressure and forced you to adjust and make decisions best for your career, future, and happiness. And that’s ok. In fact, I bet there has been a point in your career where you had to make a drastic practice change to accommodate something in your life.

Words matter and unintentional, or intentional, word choice can affect all of us negatively.  How many of you have had patients say, “I hate the dentist,” to your face? How many of you cringe when a patient implies that the implant or service they received must have paid for your second boat? How many of you are boiling inside when a patient accuses you of upselling a treatment plan just so you can make more money (and of course that patient has zero concept of what treatment they actually need or what they’re allowed to have based on their benefits). It’s frustrating to say the least.

Words matter just as much when dental colleagues are interacting with each other. We need to choose our words carefully to respect each other. I hear comments directly from some dentists about their colleagues and those are equally upsetting. Have you heard dentists refer to other dentists, who may practice differently than them, as being a lesser dentist, “taking the easy way out,” not being a “real” dentist based on their chosen specialty, or practicing in a model “that must just be a stepping stone in their career.” To me, this is unacceptable. All dentists started with the same mission: to help people and to make people healthy. Of course, education and experience vary, skillsets and technique vary, practice philosophy and soft skills vary. This is across all practice models. What I see happening more frequently are dentists associating one of these differences or a treatment gone wrong with an entire population of dentists who practice in a different model than they do. I would ask you to challenge your judgement before generalizing. Generations are changing, lifestyle priorities are different, and diversity among newer dentists and dental students is more robust than ever before.

Why Membership Matters

All dentists have a home at the CDA. Diversity makes our profession better and helps the CDA truly advocate for all dentists. What the ADA, CDA and organized dentistry can do for you is something that you cannot do on your own. We bring the dental lobby to the Colorado State Capitol and to Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. Our dental lobby is significant, and our legislators are aware of the dental expertise that we bring to the table. We have a powerful voice that is louder than the voice of a single dentist. That said, without a high market share of dentists in the state we won’t have the representation to advocate as strongly for everyone. If we lose members to the guise of “you don’t have to be a member to benefit,” we lose market share, and that makes it harder for us to be your voice of dentistry at the Capitol.

Your dues dollars allow us to accomplish things that are sometimes intangible, but I promise you they are invaluable to the future of this great profession. In 2023, we accomplished a lineup of legislative wins (see We have no intention of slowing this trend, but we have to speak on behalf of the vast majority of dentists. Your membership to the ADA, CDA and local component create this incredible vast majority. Together we can accomplish great things.