When I graduated from my residency in periodontics over 30 years ago, I joined the American Dental Association, the Ohio Dental Association and the Columbus Dental Society. I joined these organizations upon the prompting of my mentors. It was expected. My mentors also conveyed to me that being a member of these organizations was an important vehicle by which I could continue to build upon the fundamental knowledge that I had obtained with my formal dental training. Although continuing education was important, it was equally important for dentists to get out of their operatories and share practice tips with each other regarding patient treatment and practice management.

The advice that I received from my mentors proved to be valuable. I have also learned much over the years from my colleagues at member meetings. What I did not realize until many years later was the vital role that organized dentistry has in allowing dentists, like me, to practice freely in the profession that we love. There are outside entities, including government and insurance companies that are eager to regulate and restrict the way that we practice and to interfere with our doctor-patient relationships. Our lone voices have little power in protecting us from these outside influences. But when dentists join together at the national, state and local levels – we then have a voice that can be heard and a team to look out for our interests. This is called advocacy.

In 2021, I attended the ODA House of Delegates meeting with many questions concerning how the ODA had advocated for its members during the COVID closure of our offices. Dave Owsiany presented us with a written annual report, as the ODA executive director always does at the House of Delegates. But this year he went off script. Dave elaborated upon the challenges that he and the rest of the staff at the Ohio Dental Association and our ODA President Sharon Parsons experienced during the shutdown of dental offices in Ohio. The governor contacted Dave Owsiany indicating that it was his intention to close all dental offices throughout Ohio for an indefinite period of time. As Dave objected, the governor informed him that he was not asking his permission, but he was seeking the best way of informing all Ohio dentists about his intentions. Although Dave has been at this job for many years, he indicated that this was the most active and most strategic time he had ever spent with the organization. Our advocates at the ODA, including the executive board and staff, worked long days and evenings and weekends to put together a plan to allow us to open our dental offices as quickly as possible. They have advocated and protected us in more ways than I have time to mention in this short article. I left that House of Delegates meeting grateful for the dedicated leaders and staff that we have at the ODA. I am more convinced than ever of the need for organized dentistry and advocacy at the state and national level, to protect us from outside influences that could close our dental offices in a moment’s notice!

With changing times and changing technologies, we no longer need to meet in person to obtain continuing education. We can obtain more CE than we can digest from the privacy of our sofas. But we still need each other for support, to exchange ideas and for advocacy for our profession. We cannot take our dental profession for granted. There is no guarantee that in the future we will be able to practice dentistry in the same way that we do today. I urge my fellow dental colleagues to continue to be active members of the Ohio Dental Association. Being a member is critical and there is always the need for volunteers and leaders. Protect your future. Be involved.