American Academy of Dental Group Practice (AADGP) Conference Highlights 2015

American Academy of Dental Group Practice Conference 2015

With the soaring popularity of dental group practices, did you know there are only two group practice focused conferences in the country? The ADSO is for the “big boys” and you’re welcome to join if you have at least $10 million /year in revenues. The other conference is the American Academy of Dental Group Practice and anyone is welcome to attend. I first attended the AADGP in 1997 and grew up in dentistry over 12 years of participating in this meeting. After a few year break, I returned this January and for the first time, attended as an exhibitor.

This article will tell you about the AADGP overall and share some specifics from this year’s meeting so you can decide if this sounds like a conference you might like to attend next January. First of all, the meeting itself is small. This year there were 204 attendees and it looked to be about 50/50 dentists and administrators. Don’t let the small size deceive you, you may be talking with only one person from a group, but they very likely represent several locations and a sizeable organization.

Since this is a national meeting, it’s excellent for networking. Sitting down at a roundtable beside a young man representing five locations in southern California or a one location 18 operatory group in Pennsylvania stirs truly valuable conversations. For regional groups, the opportunity to learn from each other and gather new ideas is found nowhere else in dentistry.

Speakers and Content

As with most conferences, the keynote speaker is designed to motivate the group and give you a few takeaways you can use with your own team once you get back home. This year another speaker focused on sleep dentistry and the final morning was all Dr. Roger Levin reviewing practice management. This conference understands the variety of interests among attendees and does a great job offering choices for simultaneous speakers and roundtable discussions.

In my opinion, one of the highlights of this year’s meeting was the presentation given by Dr. Kathleen O’Laughlin, the ADA Executive Director. Bravely tackling the always sore subject of Medicaid rates, she shared several slides full of data to identify current trends in our field, and she translated each one to help the packed house understand what the future may bring.


Highlights of the ADA Presentation

The ADA has 156,000 members (which is about 68% of all the dentists in the country). She acknowledged that still most dentists do not realize what the ADA does for them and this is a communications challenge they are addressing. Dr. O’Laughlin shared that 80% of the work the ADA is doing focuses on the environment dentists work in, focusing on advocacy and legislative action. They were successful in hiring Dr. Marco Vujicik who leads their Health Policy Center which has been furiously surveying all aspects of dentistry to get a handle on the many changes facing dentists.

Several slides demonstrated the facts of today’s new reality of dentistry:

  • Total dental spending by patients has been flat since 2008 and this is a structural issue that started before the recession.
  • Average spend of a patient with dental insurance is $300. This tells us that increasing dental maximums doesn’t increase patient behavior.
  • Children are increasingly going to the dentist thanks to assistance programs. However, adults are not visiting a dentist and millennial are the worst. Adults ages 21-34 don’t go to the dentist for 2 major reasons: either they feel they’re healthy and don’t need to go or they cannot afford it. Seniors are going to the dentist because that is their habit. This results in an aging patient base for most dentists.
  • Dentist earnings are dropping for almost 15 years this again is pre-recession. This will change the expectations of new dentists joining the field.
  • Although there is lots of discussion about dental school debt, the income to debt ratio is actually far better than veterinarians, optometrists and pharmacists. Interestingly, recent dental school grads are not making decisions based on their debt. They are far more influenced by demographics, wanting to work with dentists that are similar in race and gender.

Beyond the numbers and description of dentistry today, Dr. O’Laughlin shared the ADA’s vision of the future of dentistry. Here’s my brief summary: Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act will provide insurance to an additional 108 million Americans. However, most dentists do not accept Medicaid. This will create a major storm in dentistry. These patients will be furious when they realize they finally have insurance but they cannot find a provider willing to accept it!

There are a two possible scenarios to handle this angry situation. One is that the government could step in and require every dentist to join Medicaid. Think government mandate. Another scenario is that patients will create lawsuits against dentists and the courts will set a legal precedent that again could change dentistry. Wow! This all sounds very ugly for both dentists and patients.

To try to get ahead of possible government or legal intervention, the ADA intends to pick 8-9 states at a time and pursue Medicaid reform. Meaning they will really work with the state Medicaid programs to find solutions to increase fees and get dentists to see these patients. Dr. O’Laughlin acknowledged that this is a difficult and slow solution, but if agreement can be reached we can avoid a climate where dentists will be at the mercy of legislation. Hence, the ADA is encouraging all dentists to look for solutions together. Since each state is affected differently by Medicaid, there is no one easy solution.


As the attendance at many dental conferences across the country begin to wane, the AADGP enjoyed almost 50% first time attendees at this year’s meeting. This just makes sense as group practices continue to form and expand. This meeting is a great opportunity for dentist owners and administrators to network, identify special pricing from exhibitors and hear the latest trends affecting the profession. For dentists considering attending this meeting, visit to learn more.

Keeping current with industry information is just one way to run a successful dental practice. If you’re interested in new ideas on running a dental practice, please subscribe to my weekly blog. One of the biggest challenges to managing a dental practice is managing dental insurance. With dental insurance handled, then dental marketing for new patients becomes a primary focus. In today’s day of online reviews, handling patient complaints well is essential. As your practice grows, hiring dental staff becomes more important. With 18+ years of dental practice management experience, I’m open to your questions to help you run a successful dental office.

AUTHOR: Jill Nesbitt
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