Why Be an AAO Member?

NESO Delegates at AAO

By Dr. John Callahan, NESO Trustee

The practice of orthodontics and dentistry is changing. Economic trends are reshaping the reality of how the average orthodontist practices.

One recent development is the increase in lawsuits challenging state laws that define specialty areas, and state dental boards’ abilities to enforce those laws—particularly those regarding “specialty” advertising. (And the legal definition of “specialist” is increasingly varied across the nation based upon state laws and regulations.) For those of us who are “wet fingered” orthodontists, this begs the question: Who is watching the ship and what are they doing?

One of the many values of AAO membership is knowing there is leadership and staff who have the time and dedication to continue to work for the benefit of the public and you, as members.

The AAO’s annual meeting just recently ended. The House of Delegates (our association’s policy-making body) deliberated long and hard with the goals of sustaining our orthodontic specialty at the highest levels of excellence and ethical conduct, educating the public about why they should seek our services, and determining how to be most effective for the membership.

There are a number of significant changes that directly affect you. These include a change to the association bylaws that removes the criteria that one has to have an “exclusive” practice of orthodontics to be a member. There are two good reasons to do this:

  1. Many AAO members employ a variety of methods in their offices that may not fall under the traditional category of “orthodontics.” Examples include teeth whitening, Botox injections and cosmetic procedures, among other things. Thus, changing the eligibility for membership to include and welcome orthodontists who employ these techniques not only recognizes today’s reality, but also reduces any lingering doubts in their minds about eligibility for membership in the AAO.
  2. A growing number of new practitioners are working part-time, either as employees or independent contractors, for other dental professionals. They are often being asked to practice primary dental care at least part-time, in addition to practicing orthodontics. Additionally, some members may wish to expand their practices to hire or contract with general or pediatric dentists, or dental hygienists.


Given the changing economic climate, as well as the increased competition that our members face, the AAO wants to make membership as inclusive and welcoming as possible.

In my opinion, this change in membership eligibility does not alter or dilute the value of AAO membership. Membership still only will be open to orthodontists. This change merely makes it “safer” for orthodontists to expand their practices to areas beyond what may traditionally be considered “orthodontics,” should the laws in their jurisdictions allow them to do so. It also allows younger members to become AAO members and establish themselves in the market while also doing some general dental work (again, should the laws allow).

Another significant House of Delegates decision was to pass our revised AAO Principles of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct. This goes hand-in-hand with ensuring that members will adhere to the highest ethical standards of conduct. This is one of the things that separate us from those who choose not to be members.

Finally, there is the Consumer Awareness Program (CAP). As you all know, we pay an assessment to educate the public about why they should seek our services.

I have spoken with many members, and the great majority feels we need to continue to have a CAP. Many want it to be expanded and made more aggressive. Cost is a significant concern—not only to our new and younger members, but to all of us. No one wants to spend money and not see positive results. The AAO agrees, and there is a change in direction and the delivery model.

We are moving away from the “traditional” model of TV and print, and becoming all digital. This will allow us to focus on different demographic niches and reach a much larger audience since digital advertising is more cost-effective. We will provide the metrics to show the effectiveness of our efforts. It is my opinion that we need the CAP now more than ever, and it is our goal to be sure our members see hard results.

In fact, the AAO took great strides to reduce the CAP assessment. For the Fiscal Year 2017-2018, which starts May 31, the CAP assessment has been reduced from $800 to $600.

One of the greatest values of membership is the AAO’s advocacy efforts at the national and state levels. Your membership supports our efforts to cause change that directly affects your practice.

Wouldn’t it be great to see Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) increased back to $5,000, while eliminating the “use it-or-lose-it” rule? Imagine how helpful that would be to our patients in terms of planning and paying for their orthodontic care. That, along with repealing the medical device tax, student loan reform, is the AAO’s top priority in Washington.

At the state level, the AAO’s Component Legal Support Fund currently is representing the Texas and Minnesota component groups as it concerns “specialty” advertising issues, and the Rhode Island component group as it concerns delegable and non-delegable duties; and the AAO just granted funding to the state of North Carolina to investigate insurance coverage for orthognathic surgery. In each one of these states, the AAO has stepped in to help prevent regulations that would negatively impact our daily lives.

So, why, when you get your membership renewal at the end of May, should you pay your dues? Because you care. You want what is best for the public. You want our peers to adhere to the highest standards of clinical proficiency and standards of conduct. You may not have the time, or interest to be actively engaged, but you know others do and they need your support.

The AAO has your back. As trustee, I have your back. Please feel free to connect with me at any time at or my cell, (315) 569-8219.

(Image Above, From Left to Right) Front Row: Christina Carter, Sarah Hagy, Jack Kacewicz, Michal Kleinlerer, Carrie Melita, Phil Mansour, Dan Ryan, Lee Erickson; Back Row: John Callahan, Jeff Blasius, Dennis Hiller, Marlin Salmon, Sal Manente