I mentioned the other day in Ortho101 that I wasn’t going to renew my AAO membership this year. The conversation that followed was interesting and I thought I’d share it here to spur further discussion. Very soon after my post on Ortho101, an orthodontic elder posted the usual “I’ve been practicing for 40 years” and “you need to support the AAO at all costs” and “we have no choice but to support the AAO” and “you should change the AAO from the inside” and “the world will end if we don’t give the AAO money” response. I’ll admit that I’m sick of hearing this parroted “logic” from AAO loyalist so I responded thus:

Sir, if this was the first time I’d ever heard such a declaration I might be impressed or inspired but the truth is that this is the same old reasoning spouted by all who start their hymn of praise for the AAO by saying “I’ve been in practice for 20, 30, 40 years…” How long you have been in practice means nothing – other than the fact that those who are established are much more likely to favor the status quo because it favors them. Saying that we have no choice but to pay well over 2000 dollars a year to the AAO and ADA “just because” and regardless of results or ROI is probably one of the stupidest lines of reasoning I’ve ever heard but it’s the accepted line of BS that’s been around for years, is repeated by orthodontists like a flock of parrots and allows people in the AAO leadership to do whatever they want. I also resent the other part of this incredibly trite argument that suggests that those of us who are sick of the AAO have not tried to work from within the AAO. Many of us have many times. I was a SWSO board member and an AAO HOD alternate who was supposed to be the HOD delegate the following year but “shockingly” the powers at be didn’t allow me to be on the floor of the HOD. This is how they act towards anyone who wants to disrupt the hogs feeding at the trough of membership dues that they think they are entitled to. Go sell that $h!t somewhere else. And if you choose to post it here, know that we will have in depth, detailed discussions about the issues at hand. The days of blindly following and paying annually just because our elders said it must be will soon end.

Next came the question “Ben what are your thoughts about the formation of a political lobby independent of the ADA or AAO?” Here’s my response:

That’s a great question that gets to the heart of the issue. Several of us have discussed this for years and we even went so far as to try and form a group a few years ago but the time wasn’t right. We also tried giving the AAO specific ideas for improvement but got nowhere as the AAO knew better. We orthodontists are very loyal, obedient, rule following, non-confrontational beings. We are career students who got where we are by doing what we were told and respecting our elders. We make a living by being nice and polite and likable to PCD referrals. It is very difficult for us to take a hard line on anything from a professional point of view. Because of this it will be very difficult to form a professional group outside the AAO. I’ve long said and still wish that the AAO would straighten up but it just appears less and less likely as the years pass. David Butler starting the Facebook study group revolution in orthodontics has gone a long way to increase the interconnectivity of orthodontists and the sharing of ideas. This is a huge step and prevents vendors and AAO brass from keeping us in the dark and feeding us $h!t. It’s a big step forward for the profession and the interconnectivity makes the need for a formal professional association less prominent.

In the last couple years, I’ve decided to approach this problem from the other end. Instead of forming an association, I’ve decided to create a meeting that gives orthodontists what they desire most in a much shorter amount of time, more conveniently, less expensively and with much more new info, fresh speakers and relevance to modern practice. This is why The MKS Forum was created. I’ve also spent some time and effort finding alternative insurance companies to the AAOIC. The meeting and the insurance are the two biggest things the AAO says we can’t live without.

Notice that whenever someone says we MUST keep paying the AAO they don’t say what the AAO does for us only that the world will end if we don’t have the AAO but really what does the AAO do for the tens of millions we give them? Nothing that I can see. Being an orthodontist is worthless. It is not a selling point and in fact in many states it restricts what you can do giving PCDs the advantage. The AAO says that they are responsible for “saving health savings accounts” but do you really think that we are the only group lobbying congress for this? Do we really think a tiny, insignificant membership organization representing less than 10,000 total orthodontists in the country (not all are AAO members – how many are is a matter of debate) is single handedly responsible for enacting federal legislation? If we do then we are more arrogant than even I thought. The world without the AAO would be just like this one we live in except that the current AAO members would be richer at least a couple thousand dollars and a bunch of AAO brass would have to find another way to afford their fat cat travel and luxury hotel and dinner lifestyle.

The way things are done now is illogical from a dues paying member perspective. Does it make sense that we pay thousands in dues and still have to pay thousands to attend the annual session? Does it make sense that the vendor fees go to the AAO instead of to offsetting the cost of dues paying members to attend the annual session? Does it make sense that we lose hundreds of thousands of dollars every year because the AAO and the constituent leadership groups refuse to fold up the stupid, irrelevant regional meetings that no one goes to, vendors hate and that consistently lose money? Does it make sense to spend millions on travel for in person meetings of the numerous AAO committees instead of utilizing technology to do virtual meetings? Does it make sense to spend money, any money, on nonessential clerical BS while the profession dies instead of spending every dime we have to educate the public as to why they should see an orthodontists and, more importantly, showing them how to tell the difference between a PCD and an Orthodontic Specialist? NO, it doesn’t but that doesn’t stop us from doing the same thing we have always done. We pay dues, they spend the dues, they don’t care about what the membership needs or wants they just care about who’s turn it is to sit in the big chair. Something has to change. At some point it will but who knows when that will be or what it will look like?

Finally, there was a declaration of support from another Ortho101 member for the AAO elder spouting the party line. This person went so far as to say that we have no voice except the one we have through the AAO. I found that a bit offensive as you can see from my response that begins with a quote from the person’s comment:

You actually just said, “Deciding not to be a part of organized dentistry guarantees your right to not have a voice in the changes so desperately needed not only in our profession but in our country as well”?

Seriously?? Are you saying that if I/we are not part of the AAO or ADA that I/we don’t/can’t have a voice? Are you that brainwashed or are you a cog in the machine or both? Let’s talk about the changes needed and more specifically how they have not happened and are not being effectively addressed by the AAO. The AAO has been in charge for near a century now. They are responsible for who we are and what we are and how the public perceives us. They have enjoyed total support and total funding and the results they have achieved for the profession are terrible. Why should we think it is different now? The AAO wants to say that the state of the profession is not their fault or would be worse without them but where is the evidence for either case? Why do we think it will be different now if we continue to support the AAO? If we look at the AAO’s track record as a predictor of future performance, then I see no reason for optimism.

Yes, the AAO is starting to make slow progress towards changes because of a few progressive, passionate individuals on the inside. The AAO brass say these recent changes were on their master plan and internally motivated but I call BS on that. If I and others had not been screaming at the top of our lungs and pointing out all the waste and stupidity and misplaced loyalty to the point that it has started impacting their membership base then NOTHING would have changed. Instead of telling me to pipe down and get in line, the AAO should encourage others to look critically at your member organization and speak up when they see things that are out of whack. That is the only way the AAO survives long term.

The AAO doesn’t have a right to membership dues. Orthodontists have no duty to give thousands of dollars a year to an organization that has failed the profession for almost a century. Results are the only thing that matter. Again you talk about what will happen if we don’t support the AAO. I’m talking about what has happened – and more importantly what has not happened – in the decades that we have unconditionally supported the AAO and not even questioned how they spend the 25 million dollar annual budget. Enough talk. Enough fear mongering. The AAO needs to put up or shut up. People will vote with their feet or they won’t and we will see how it shakes out. I have gone along with the AAO for years while trying to encourage change. Enough is enough. I’m done with the AAO until something changes significantly.

7 thoughts on “Rationale for Leaving the AAO

  1. Have never been an AAO member. Have learned more from you alone..thank you.

  2. The AAOs PR campaign is a total bust. I stay a member but I pay in dribs and drabs. When they call my office I get on the phone and tell them I’m not happy with the current state of the AAO. I tell them take my $ how I pay or leave it! Guess what? They take it.

  3. So, what exactly would you do differently, Dr. Burris? All I’m reading is “come to my meeting instead because I’ll waste less money”.

      1. Nothing here is blowing my skirt up, but I signed it. Good luck!

        1. Super.
          It’s pretty logical and common sense stuff but it was considered radical by the leadership when the petition came out a year and a half ago.

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