The Boss. Not my wife. I’m talking about THE Boss – Springsteen.

“Born in the USA” is perhaps the most misunderstood song of the millennia; blasted on repeat at parades and pools every Fourth of July as if Uncle Sam himself created it. Its lyrics are literally screaming with seething regret, despair and hopelessness. However, coupled with an ambiguous, anthemic chorus wavering between sarcasm and hopeful pride, a generational ballad was born.

This March, I once again found myself excitedly attending the ODA’s Leadership Institute (LI). I’ve been attending with my dad, George Sr., for 15 years, since my undergrad years at OSU. LI is like Rolex, it’s perpetually fantastic. The ODA’s signature member event has had a profound effect on my personal development and passion for our profession. 2023 was no different: excellent speakers, leadership skills, CE, camaraderie and no kids. I walked away inspired and thankful for our tremendous ODA team, lobbyists and community of peers. Yet, a quick glance around the room evolved into a frantic, angry scour.

“Where the hell is everyone?” The elephant in the room was addressed quite quickly at the Subcouncil on New Dentists’ annual post-LI meeting. Our ODA membership subcouncil is charged with recruiting and retaining dentists who have graduated dental school in the last 10 years. Like most organizations, except for pickleball leagues, our subcouncil and the tripartite are fighting inverted membership curves and hemorrhaging participation. This year’s lack of “new” dentists at LI may have been perceived, but it was quite palpable. We came up with reasons, excuses, frustrations, but concluded we don’t have enough “new” dentists who were BORN IN THE ODA.

Legacy dentists and those who were involved in ASDA and student government seem to round out dentists who were BORN IN THE ODA – individuals who participated in organized dentistry long before they graduated dental school. They’re the key to turning that frown of a membership curve upside down. Why? Hopefully, this story makes LI speaker, Paul Smith, proud. In 2009, George Sr. spilled the tea to Suzanne Brooks that Ohio State’s Pre-Dental Club would be attending the Chicago Midwinter Meeting for the first time ever. She reached out to me and invited all eight undergrads to dinner with a few ODA dentists. The vote was 7 nays and my dismayed yea! Turns out, I had the impossible task of communicating the benefits of an ODA event versus a night out in Chicago. Thankfully, we followed our guts.

Only because we would be receiving a free meal, did everyone agree to sit through a possible organized dentistry spiel. There was no spiel, only one of the most memorable nights many of us have had in organized dentistry. I had tried to communicate the very best of the ODA for weeks to my peers. They experienced it all and more at a single dinner of fellowship, inspiration, and laughter. Suzanne and I talk about that night nearly every time we see each other. It was awesome. It was powerful. It was monumental. Fifteen years later, the ODA and Pre-Dental Club are still going to dinner in Chicago, fostering lifelong relationships and building our ODA community from the ground up. This singular event is another opportunity for the next generation of leaders to be BORN IN THE ODA.

Value is nearly impossible to communicate. It’s not tactile or structured. It’s visceral and limbic. We struggle with value every day. Do you floss, Mrs. Jones? Don’t you know the benefits? Organized dentistry showcasing and telling other members their benefits are extremely important, but those benefits fall gravely short of eliciting an emotional response, unlike personal experience. For example, my generation lives in a new galaxy known as co-parenting. In reality, it’s a quid pro quo for free time. A dental meeting that someone has never experienced, like LI, surely doesn’t rank high on the list for most, regardless of the universally known benefits. The only way you’re watching kids and Blippi for an entire weekend by yourself to eventually free up time for a dental meeting is because you’ve been there before. Because you’ve been awed before. Because you have been shaped before. Because you’ve found purpose before. Perhaps, this “before” was at LI during undergrad or dental school in our most professionally formative years.

Emotional responses and experiences during formative times are the key to revitalizing our tripartite, practices and communities. As we inspire the next generation, the next generation reinvigorates the passion we have for our profession. We can’t start early enough. Ask your patients if they’ve considered a career in dentistry. Offer for them to shadow or participate in high school career days. We need more Chicago dinners and Pre-Dental Days presented by our local dental societies for undergrads. Dental students need to be given excused absences/credit to attend LI, Day at the Statehouse, Annual Session, etc. And for the “new” dentists, they need to be individually and personally encouraged to share in the experience of organized dentistry by those who have come before them.

It’s what my dad and countless dentists have done for me since I was a child. It’s why I make time, when this phase of life certainly doesn’t have it. For privilege bears the responsibility to pay forward experience. And unlike The Boss, there is no ambiguity for me in the chorus of organized dentistry. I’m damn proud to say, I was BORN IN THE ODA.