Dental hygiene associations: It is time for a positive change

Lory Laughter, RDH, argues that dental hygiene associations must change to reflect the current needs of its members.


By Lory Laughter, RDH, BS, MS

There are only two reasons I have cable television—sports and commercials. Sports are a chance to cheer for a team and perhaps feel a short-lived bonding with thousands of like-minded fans. Commercials can be funny and downright profound. While watching the NBA playoffs this weekend, an advertisement for Valvoline caught my attention: “What good is history, if you never change? And what good is change, if it doesn’t make you better?”

We do not live in a stagnant environment. Life around us is ever-changing, ranging from the climate to mutating bacteria. Nothing stays the same forever. History and tradition are wonderful learning tools, but neither should dictate how life is lived in this moment.

Change can be difficult, and even positive change can be stressful. Yet, change will happen whether you choose it or not. Your choice is to be involved and help direct the change or sit back and let the change happen around you. If you choose involvement, there is a higher chance your voice will be heard. On the other hand, sitting back and waiting relieves you of the right to complain. In either circumstance the consequences are shared with all parties affected.

A professional organization must strive to serve the needs of individual members. It is the members who are most affected by the actions of an association. The well being of the highest authority or leaders is not the mission of a professional association, in my opinion. When an association can no longer address or meet the needs and concerns of the members change must happen. The change can be negative (decrease or absence of membership) or positive (negotiation and discussion), but, in one way or another, the status quo will be disrupted.

In every organization, there are leaders and followers. In the best organizations, there are also those in the middle who are not afraid to ask questions and demand answers. Answers are not talking points; answers are given in response to a specific question. The old adage, “Because I’m the mom (or boss)!” does not work in professional associations. An answer must be given for every decision, and each questioner should be addressed in a timely manner and with a direct answer. Sheep will graze where directed, but shepherds will seek the areas least likely to be attacked by wolves.

I’ve fielded many questions lately about the decision of the California Dental Hygienists’ Association to terminate the charter agreement with ADHA. Speculation runs wild as the reality sinks in that change is coming. Whatever decision is reached by the delegates at the June House of Delegates in California, change has arrived. Dental hygienists in California now have a choice to be involved or to sit on the sideline and wait.

Some facts are not disputable.

  1. California has been in compliance with all 990 tax issues since 2009-10.
  2. The new charter agreement will impose a financial strain upon CDHA, due to complying with reporting requirements to ADHA that are in the new charter agreement.
  3. This change may compel components to start having fewer activities at the local level due to the hassle of putting the event together with CDHA central office. The member benefit of continuing education related to the practice of dental hygiene will be reduced.
  4. The most important thing that dental hygienists across California and the nation should understand is this: Professional organizations are there to serve their members’ needs. CDHA is simply trying to listen and serve their members. The BOT voted in the best interest of CDHA members.

This financial burden is not an illusion. I spoke to a component president in another state who must dissolve the component because the component cannot afford to incorporate, and the state association cannot afford to carry unincorporated components due to the financial constraints of the charter agreement. Members would be required to pay the same amount of dues to be, essentially, a satellite group while losing the benefit of local CE events and colleague connections. The president plans to cancel her membership with ADHA. The financial concern is real and being realized now in states who have signed the charter agreement. This is just one example.

Some point to history and tradition as the sole reason to not question the actions of a professional association. In their minds, things stay the same because that is how it has always been done. Others realize without change we lose much more than tradition, we lose our future.

I’m going with Valvoline on this one. “What good is history, if you never change?

And what good is change, if it doesn’t make you better?” I give you my wish for fond memories of history and a better future.

Lory Laughter, RDH, BS, MS, practices clinically in Napa, Calif. She is owner of Dental IQ, a business responsible for the Annual Napa Dental Experience. Lory combines her love for travel with speaking nationally on a variety of topics. She currently serves on the California Dental Hygienists' Association's Board of Trustees. She can be contacted at

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