We are pleased that the President of the American Dental Association (ADA), Dr. William Ten Pas, agreed to let us publish the letter he wrote to Dr. John Kennedy in response to the Viewpoint authored by Dr. Kennedy in our October issue. Dr. Ten Pas` letter leads off our Letters Department on Page 14. Dr. Kennedy`s Viewpoint, "Are We Playing To Win or Playing To Keep From Losing?" has generated more response from readers than any other Viewpoint in recent history.
Dr. Kennedy (who, by the way, is a longtime ADA member and continues to be a strong supporter of organized dentistry) was critical of the ADA for not taking a more aggressive stance in assisting dentists who have faced or are facing legal problems with the Americans with Disabilities Act in the area of treatment or referral of HIV+ patients. Dr. Ten Pas` explains the Association`s position and points out other areas where the Association`s stance has been successful in fighting obtrusive government regulations.
Based on feedback from the Viewpoint, the previously-published letter of Dr. Howard Farran concerning the ADA`s promotional efforts, or lack thereof, the decision of the American Academy of General Dentistry to not require ADA membership as a prerequisite to Academy membership and concerns expressed in responses to those issues, it is evident that the ADA faces serious obstacles if it is to continue to represent all dentists.
I am sure that the officers, trustees, delegates and staff of the ADA are looking seriously at doing things differently and keeping up with a fast-changing professional climate. I would not presume to be an expert on what the ADA needs to do. But I have a couple of suggestions:
1. Give young dentists a vote. When I suggested this a few years ago in an editorial, I received pompous answers from the ADA that they listened carefully to young dentists. Yes, young dentists have a voice-why not give them a vote? Some state and local societies have found ways to do so; and
2. Allow the airing of dissension on controversial matters. It is obvious to everyone that the ADA thoroughly discusses controversial subjects at its annual meetings, yet, when "decisions" are made, the perception is that everyone (officers, trustees, delegates, staff) must get in line and espouse only the party line. That is unrealistic, and, ADA members, be they officers or not, should not be muzzled.
And I have a suggestion for individual dentists, too. Don`t drop your ADA membership. Work for change, for a voice, within the association. There are important activities underway that deserve your support. Work to strengthen the association with your active involvement.
A final thought for ADA officials: Make sure that you are listening to your members in the trenches. Their concerns are legitimate. Their problems are real, but many of them do not think the Association hears their pleas for help.