My first involvement with organized dentistry happened when a dentist from the Great Houston Dental Society (GHDS) invited me to Texas Mission of Mercy. I took on the opportunity, which opened the door for other community service outreach that provided free dental care for veterans and underserved populations. These experiences reminded me that we have the potential to generate a positive impact on others’ lives, even with the smallest amount of help we can provide. Together with our mutual passion and skills, we were able to improve the health of our community. Without this cooperation and guidance, none of this would have been possible.
Later that year, I attended my second organized dentistry event: a GHDS Legislative Action Committee meeting. I was inspired by the passion that every attendee had for dentistry. This meeting focused on ways to bolster the profession and created a unified front to achieve change. It was my earliest experience with advocacy. I learned about the issues that face the profession and how to communicate with members of Congress during our approaching state lobby day. An issue that stood out to me at the time included a proposal to convert funding for the three dental schools in Texas into a formula to provide dental care to underserved and special needs patients in an effort to expand dental students’ knowledge and competency in caring for these populations and improve the public’s oral health.
These two experiences showed me how organized dentistry promotes the profession to help us better serve our patients. I knew I had to be part of it.
The importance of organized dentistry
I’ve now been involved at the local, district and national levels, and my understanding of organized dentistry has expanded. I’ve learned that consistent effort and teamwork by people with different skills, intelligent minds and diverse backgrounds help us maintain the profession’s autonomy. The profession is upheld by three pillars of organized dentistry: advocacy, education and service.
Complicated word, yet simple definition: to rally support for a cause we believe in. Whether it is on a state or national level, encourage members to attend a lobby day, take action alerts, be involved or just be informed. When we combine our voices to address critical issues facing the nation, we create a powerful impact. Our voices can bring solutions to the foreground in issues we face such as student loan debt, barriers to care, water fluoridation, licensure reform and so on. Last April, over 1,000 dental professionals came together to advocate for the Action for Dental Health Care Act during the ADA Dentist and Student Lobby Day. As of June 6, the bill moved forward in the legislative process and was introduced to the Senate. It was thrilling to know that I have contributed in this success and that my voice was heard. I would urge you to attend a national or state lobby day, meet your representatives and join the “tooth party” in advocating for dentistry.
We have to remain informed and up-to-date to treat patients appropriately. Being part of a big collaboration, we are able to share resources, be involved in research and learn more about public oral health. For instance, ASDA and the ADA provide numerous opportunities for continuing education such as ASDA’s Career Compass to guide us to become better health care providers. Be sure to check it out to learn about how students transition into their professional lives as well-rounded dentists.
Help comes in different shapes and forms. We all became part of dentistry to help patients regain confidence in their smiles and to have better oral and overall health. The three levels of organized dentistry have a mutual vision for better oral health care across the nation; therefore, we work with many other organizations and individuals to promote prevention and improve access to dental care, especially for underserved populations. I’ve been fortunate to have opportunities to serve my immediate community through programs such as Missions of Mercy. Host volunteering events within your chapters and communities during the Week of Service every January as part of ASDA’s National Outreach Initiative.
The future of our profession lies within our hands, voices and decisions. It is defined by what we choose to learn and our determination to be aware, engaged and supportive. I invite you to remember your first experiences in organized dentistry, why you dedicated yourself to the profession, and become involved to help us protect and shape our future for generations to come.
~Rana Shammas, Texas-Houston ’19, Council on Advocacy Legislative Coordinator