By Marc Ackerman

The ABO website proclaims that 1 out of 3 orthodontists are board certified (33%).They report that there are 3410 active diplomates and the AAO membership website estimates 17,000 members worldwide. I am not entirely sure who did the math on this one but I think it is safer to say that 1 out of 5 orthodontists are Board Certified (20%).

How has the ABO managed to stay in business as the ADA recognized national certifying board for the orthodontic specialty with such low certification rate? In 2002 it was reported that the AAO membership totaled 13,747 and only 2,542 members were ABO certified. A quick calculation reveals that 1 out of 5 orthodontists were board certified (18%). The ABO launched the Gateway offer in 2005 which granted a 5 year certificate to those AAO members who had passed the written ABO examination and were willing to pay $1880. The caveat was that after 5 years the “Gateway Diplomate” would have to present 6 cases and take an oral examination for recertification.

So in the 3 years that the Gateway offer was available (2005-2007), how many AAO members signed up? In 2012 when the last of the 5 year certificates expired, how many members re-certified? Has the number of ABO certified orthodontists in 2016 increased to a number above or below that of 2005? We don’t know the answers to any of these questions because the data has never been made available. Why did the ABO implement a plan that could epically fail at the end of 5 years? Their survival depended on it!

Here’s what happened. There used to be a National Board of Orthodontics (NBO). In October 2002 one of their certified orthodontists wrote a letter to the Editor of the AJODO. He discussed the momentum of the NBO and predicted that it wouldn’t be too long before the NBO would have more diplomates that the ABO. Over the next 2 or so years, the NBO was poised to at least equal the ABO membership. The ABO went into crisis mode. In order to comply with the ADA requirements for recognition of national certifying boards and remain as the orthodontic certifying body, the ABO needed to demonstrate adequate financial support to conduct its program of certification and needed to provide the ADA with evidence that it had certified a significant number of additional orthodontists to warrant continued approval by the ADA. The Gateway offer was launched, coffers were filled ($1880 x Gateway diplomates) and with the NBO no longer a competitive threat to the ABO it ceased to exist. How do you think the ABO arrived at the $1880 fee? They stole it from the NBO website!

It’s 11 years post-Gateway and the ABO’s relevance remains unchanged. It is time for the 75% majority of AAO membership to come together and demand that the ADA no longer recognize the ABO as the certifying body for the orthodontic specialty.

4 thoughts on “The Contested Orthodontic Convention: How Did the ABO Get the Nomination with a Minority of Pledged Diplomates?

  1. I am a member of organized dentistry – dues paying member to the ADA and AAO. I am totally on board!!! Tell me who to write to – where to go – what to do!!

  2. Not following the point of abolishing the ABO. Ortho needs a board, no? The reason the numbers are low is that board certification is practically irrelevant in private practice. If you want higher numbers, we would need to tie certification to finances somehow. But the majority doesn’t want that, so it won’t happen. So, we’re stuck with the current system.

  3. In 2008, I did a presentation to the SAO as a part of the leadership program I was in, and the topic was about board certification. I compared the ABO’s certification and recertification requirements to those of the other dental specialties. The result? Our specialty board is ridiculously more arduous than the other specialties. There is NO incentive for any orthodontist to receive board certification other than bragging rights.

    I was one who did the Gateway option in 2005 and didn’t bother to re-certify. In the aforementioned presentation, I pointed out that of the thousands (I think it was 3000 at the time) of Gateway applicants who would need re-certification, the ABO can see only 250 re-certification applicants per year. I said, “That’s 3000 board-certified orthodontists for which there is only the facilities to re-certify 250 per year. Good luck with that!” Oh, the uproar from the ABO diplomates and the Board delegates! I simply pointed out that their Gateway program suffered from a lack of foresight.

    During my research for this presentation, I had the pleasure of speaking with one of the executive directors of the dental specialty boards. He told me that at the annual meeting of all of the dental specialty boards, all of the other dental specialties were watching in amusement to see how the ABO handled the Gateway program. Like you, I have spent the last few years wondering just where is the data on how many Gateway program certifications were handed out, and how many re-certified. I think it says a lot that NOTHING has been said about this, and shame on the AAO for not holding the ABO’s feet to the fire on reporting information. I believe the ABO’s Gateway program, and the assumption that it failed, really cheapened the idea of board certification in orthodontics.

    I’m not certified, and frankly, I don’t see the point. Board certification affects my salary, how exactly?

    Great article, Marc! You said everything that has been on my mind about board certification for the last few years. Let me know if there is anything I can do for you.

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