By Gary Field, D.D.S., CDA President
My journey to leadership in the dental community started when I was an undergraduate at the University of Nebraska, as a sophomore pre-dent major. I was just elected as the president of the pre-dent club, and we had just met the dean of the dental school in Lincoln, who told us that he was making it a priority to actively recruit Nebraska resident students. Dean Cherrick had a way of communicating with students and was very personable and endearing; I looked to him as a mentor and as an ambassador of dentistry.
My next six years of undergrad and dental school seemed to go by quickly, almost a blur. After a year of GP residency in Chicago, my wife and I moved to Colorado Springs to start our family and my dental career. As an associate, I split time the next 18 months working in both Denver and Colorado Springs—the employee dentist commanding $22 to $25 per hour! I immediately joined the ADA and CDA and selected the Metro Denver Dental Society component.
I also joined the CDA’s New Dentist Council (NDC) at the time, and over the next several years, with a lot of energy, we were able to entice the ADA to hold its New Dentist Committee meeting in Denver! A year before that meeting, I had become the chair of the CDA NDC.
For 20 years, I’ve served willingly and dutifully as a delegate to the CDA House of Delegates, representing the dentists and component members of Colorado Springs.
The past four years, I’ve been part of the CDA Executive Committee and the CDA Board of Trustees, starting at the secretary position. We’ve done a lot! We hired two different executive directors, moved our CDA headquarters into a space that is equipped with rentable high-tech meeting space, hired an amazing lobbying firm and successfully persevered though another sunset review of the Dental Practice Act!
We’ve met as an Executive Committee each of those years in a retreat to map out our strategic plan. We’ve been progressive in our missions, trying to think outside-the-box and beyond the status quo! We’ve also been flattered to have the ADA and other state dental associations look to the CDA for new and innovative ideas for organized dentistry. The CDA is a think-tank! We’re not afraid to ask, “Why?” and “Why not do something different?”
My goals and plans for the 2015/2016 year are to continue with what we are doing right and successful. I will also focus on these key issues:
1. Access to care
2. Advocacy and legislative relationships
3. Ethics and changing membership demographics
4. Third-party intrusion into dentistry
5. Continued insurance reform
We will clarify and solidify our plans to continue to advance oral health in Colorado. We will continue to move forward with our workforce agendas to help deficient areas of Colorado get needed, quality dental care. We will engage and empower our surplus of skilled dentists. We will look for continued local community support for utilizing tele-dentistry and using qualified dental hygienists and dental assistants already in our state’s progressive dental delivery model. We don’t need another level of dental providers to meet our state’s dental needs. Dental care for all of Colorado’s residents, no matter at what economic level they fall into, needs to be delivered at the highest skill and training possible by a dentist-led team. As we focus on access, we are keeping this team front and center; we just need to get these providers in the most needed, sustainable places to deliver optimal dental care.
At the state level, our legislative agenda is centered on access to care. During our interview process before elections in 2014, we asked many of our senators and representatives about their feelings on our access-to-care issues. As we were recently successful in expanding the adult Medicaid dental benefit, we asked for support to increase the reimbursement rates to cover overhead costs to ensure a more sustainable dental delivery model. The CDA brought a collaborative approach involving the other oral health entities when we took the issue to state legislators this year. Because of our groundwork and collaboration with other oral health groups, two key bills that promote access to care were passed in 2015—with relatively no opposition to our positions. The first bill was an interim therapeutic restoration bill, which allows additionally trained hygienists to help triage and stop decay in patients’ large decayed teeth until they can be seen by a dentist for more definitive treatment. The second bill was known as the dentists’ designation bill or the provider rating bill. This bill prevents insurance companies from creating dentist rating systems based solely on costs of care.
Our profession is changing. But despite different practice models and care delivery systems, we can’t stress enough that our profession is bound by a code of ethics. We need to treat patients ethically when it comes to proper diagnosis and treatment rendered. The “almighty production dollar” must not be the overriding factor in how patients are cared for!
We know that organized dentistry and its members are ever-evolving, from the traditional white, male dentist, to dentists representing diversity in every way possible. This will mold the future CDA and ADA! These dentists also represent large group practices or Dental Support Organizations, public health dentistry or traditional private practice. We must accept all dentists and provide relevant value for their membership in organized dentistry. We must be willing to allow changes to take place within our organized profession.
Third parties—whether government, Medicaid, Medicare or dental insurance companies—do have a role to play as providers of dental benefits for patients across Colorado. However, I believe how we diagnose and ultimately treat those patients must be determined by what is best for the patient and not based on what a third party will pay. The dental profession is built on the doctor-patient relationship, and that relationship means the dentist and the patient determine together what treatment course to take.
Patients should also have the freedom to choose their dentists. More and more, benefits are offered only through closed-panel plan participants, and patients are losing the ability to be treated by the dentist they want. Let’s push to continue to reform dental insurance in Colorado to ensure patients have real choices in who provides their dental care.
I would like thank and credit the individuals who have helped me get to where I am today. Thank you, Sharyn Markus, Colorado Springs Dental Society (CSDS) executive director for the past 30-plus years, and fellow CSDS delegates for many years, Dr. Tim Stacey and Dr. Mark Mollner, who both wanted me to deliver my platform as president on our drive home from Snowmass after I was elected CDA secretary four years ago. Thank you to my CDA Executive Committee past presidents Dr. Tom Pixley, Dr. Ken Peters, Dr. Cal Utke and Dr. Brett Kessler—they’ve all taught and showed me the ropes and how to balance fun and hard work with our never-ending goals to impact oral health in Colorado. All big shoes to fill! Thank you to the fantastic staff of the CDA and our Executive Director Greg Hill. And finally, a big thank-you to my dear wife and soul mate Jenny, my daughter, Delaynie, and my son, Spencer. I wouldn’t be anything without my family and their support.