When I said I was lost, I meant to say I've been here before; I just can't remember if it's a left or a right turn.

July 1, 2017
The preceding sentence is a reference to my recent attendance at the California Dental Hygienists' Association's (CDHA) house of delegates meeting. 

The preceding sentence is a reference to my recent attendance at the California Dental Hygienists’ Association’s (CDHA) house of delegates meeting. RDH eVillage paid close attention to the CDHA’s decision to withdraw from the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) in 2016. I attended the CDHA’s first “independent” meeting in San Diego last month. I implied that I was lost when I asked CDHA officials questions about the agenda. After 30 years of observing dental associations, I don’t remember which parliamentary action is important to observe, and when it’s good time to sneak away for a beverage.

This is part of the problem. The editor of RDH magazine doesn’t know when you make a left or a right turn at these gatherings of like-minded professionals. If I felt it was important to know, though, I would have mapped out the process years ago. It’s not the same as saying, “I’ve never been here before.” I have attended many meetings for professional societies before, and the CDHA’s first effort as an independent association was remarkably similar to all of it’s previous meetings when they were part of the ADHA umbrella. This also is part of the problem.

The CDHA made a concerted effort during the previous 12 months to address issues involving labor law and job benefits for California dental hygienists. Otherwise, its meeting appeared otherwise to be the same turf, or format, that loyal hygiene associaton members have traversed for decades. Most dental professionals yawn at the same old thing, and some don’t even bother to renew memberships.

To be fair, the CDHA never claimed it would revolutionize trade associations. The association departed from the ADHA for financial reasons related to a new charter agreement imposed by the national association. Why not start something new, though? I consider California dental hygienists to be marvelous representatives of the dental hygiene profession. Many innovations have emerged from California through the sheer will of its dental hygienists. But its association needs to break the mold of what a trade association is. The CDHA can’t afford to give the impression to nonmembers that it’s the same old thing.

Trade associations cannot legally enforce how we conduct ourselves; only a governmental agency such as a dental board can be the force of law for a profession. This is not part of the problem. Trade associations are intended to be just a collective voice of a profession, so that there’s clarity about how professionals feel about occupational issues.

What is the problem is that dental associations desperately seek to keep their voices broad and far-reaching, yet do little to go beyond appealing to the expectations of a cloistered group of core members. What would be really uplifting is if the CDHA and all dental associations embrace the opportunity to shift the way dental professionals view their careers. Do me a favor, though. If dental associations are responsive to exploring new paths, acknowledge the effort by supporting your profession. It’s OK to feel lost - at least momentarily - in an exciting new adventure.

Mark Hartley

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