DeWayne B. McCamish, DDS, MS, knows a lot about improving smiles, but at least some of the motivation to explore orthodontics came as a result of his old school affinity for smash-mouth football. Starting his gridiron career in an era without mouth guards or even facemasks, the Tennessee native delivered his fair share of dental wreckage to opponents, but a particular incident planted one of many seeds that blossomed into a remarkably successful career.

McCamish was carrying the ball on an end-around play when the linebacker shot through and hit him hard—fracturing his right front central incisor (#8). A visit to the team dentist showed the young McCamish the power of restorative dentistry, a lesson he never forgot.

The fractured tooth, along with countless other injuries, did not deter McCamish, who went on to play football for 4 more years (and baseball for 2) at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU)—all while carrying a chemistry/math double major, with a minor in biology.

“College taught me to use my time wisely,” says the 70-year-old McCamish, who will officially become the 109th president of the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) during this year’s Annual Session in Orlando, Fla. “I would frequently leave the jock dorm and go to the library to study, or have a late night lab following football practice.” The routine led to a 3.96 GPA and a Scholastic Athlete of the Year Award.

After undergraduate studies at MTSU, McCamish earned a Master’s degree in orthodontics, in addition to his DDS, at the University of Tennessee at Memphis Dental School. These days, McCamish is a partner in a practice with Jeril R. (“Randy”) Cooper IV, DMD, and Kenneth C. Dyer, DDS, MDS. All three are diplomates of the American Board of Orthodontics. With offices in Chattanooga, Ooltewah, and Signal Mountain, Tenn, and Trenton, Ga, McCamish works about 2 days a week, but even that time will diminish after he takes the helm at AAO.

DeWayneMcCamish_4Looking to the Future

A 1-year term goes quickly, and McCamish is keen to pursue specific legislative goals, while also working to preserve the current healthy state of the profession. Much of the agenda focuses on maintaining the AAO as a strong and unified voice, representing all orthodontists, regardless of practice modality and demographics.

“AAO leadership and staff members are working hard to protect the future, regardless of our years in practice,” says McCamish. “The AAO has to remain within the limits of the law, but we must continue to look for innovative ways to change, and not just accept that ‘it is just the way it is.’”

McCamish’s administration will focus on five critical issues, as identified by the Board of Trustees.

  1. Maintain relevance to all members by providing AAO programs and services to create value for all demographics and practice modalities.
  2. Promote the distinct value of specialty orthodontic care to consumers, healthcare providers, and government entities.
  3. Influence positive changes in third party and patient relationships that are occurring as a result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to promote orthodontic specialists providing orthodontic services.
  4. Increase the engagement of members to improve the impact of the AAO brand for members and the public.
  5. Develop alliances that strengthen the orthodontic specialty for the benefit of patient care.

McCamish also plans to pursue a “Workforce Study,” which he believes is necessary “to provide valuable information for the Commission on Dental Accreditation [CODA], suggested new dental and orthodontic programs, and even the expenditure of taxpayer money” that might not be necessary.

DeWayneMcCamish_7Going to Washington

Frequent flier miles will stack up for McCamish thanks to a new AAO resolution approving four trips to the nation’s capital. The mission in Washington, DC, is largely a combination of establishing relationships, keeping an eye on actions that may affect the profession, and pushing for specific legislation.

For example, a bill before Congress would increase the flexible spending account (FSA) annual cap, and provide for other modifications to the current law. The Responsible Additions and Increases to Sustain Employee Health Benefits (RAISE Act/HR 1185) proposes:

  • increasing the annual contribution cap to $5,000 from the current $2,500;
  • adding an additional $500 to the FSA savings cap for each dependent above two dependents; and
  • canceling the current “use it or lose it” rule, so that all FSA funds left over at the end of the year can be rolled over without penalty, allowing participants the opportunity to build reserves and plan needed treatment.

McCamish strongly supports the RAISE Act and intends to continue the AAO’s efforts to give the industry a voice on the issue.

Student debt is another area in which McCamish plans to use his trips to Washington to bring orthodontic graduates some relief. Skyrocketing student debt is a major factor for the majority of orthodontic graduates, and McCamish believes the AAO should first do more to educate incoming orthodontic residents about the long-term effects of large financial obligations.

“Students need to receive information that presents a real picture of what life will be like from credible sources who are not salesmen,” he says. “I was [recently] at the National Roundtable for Dental Collaboration meeting in Chicago, and two recent graduates revealed their amount of debt. Their options were clearly limited following graduation, and one said that after a while it was sort of like ‘Monopoly money,’ but now reality has set in and his debt repayment is huge. He did not see the real picture while a resident. Hence, I will advocate for a Mentor Program as being studied by the AAO Council on New and Younger Members.”

But there is also a legislative aspect to this problem, and McCamish plans to use his time in Washington to advocate for orthodontic residents.

“For our students, we will try to encourage legislation that might help with student debt, where they have no interest rates while in graduate training, and more low interest federal loans are available,” says McCamish. “On the whole, we are not high on the government radar, but we want to be at a point where they know that we are there, because if you’re not there, you’re not going to have a voice.”

And McCamish wants to use what voice the AAO does have in Washington to affect a number of other issues, including:

  • permanently repealing the 2.3% Medical Device Excise Tax on the sale of dental equipment and supplies, which has currently been delayed for 2 years;
  • extending Section 179 expensing, which helps support the growth of small businesses;
  • advocating for patients to have access to quality care;
  • advocating to increase the deductibility of student loans; and
  • continuing to monitor tax reform as specific proposals are discussed with the goal to ensure that small business orthodontic offices can continue to provide excellent healthcare at affordable prices, while hiring and maintaining highly skilled staff.

Strength in Numbers

About 88% of all practicing orthodontists in the United States are members of the AAO, and this high percentage is the envy of many trade organizations. Total membership stands at just over 18,000, which includes 21% outside of the United States and Canada. McCamish is proud of the numbers, but he takes nothing for granted, insisting that the AAO must continue to provide real value for its members.

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Practice Profile

Practice name: McCamish, Cooper & Dyer Orthodontics

Locations: Chattanooga, Signal Mountain, and Ooltewah, Tenn, and Trenton, Ga

Number of chairs: Chattanooga—9; Signal Mountain—9; Ooltewah—11; Trenton—4

Years in practice: 43

Education: Middle Tennessee State University, 1967, BS in Chemistry/Math; University of Tennessee College of Dentistry, 1970, DDS; University of Tennessee Graduate School of Orthodontics, 1973, MS in Orthodontics

Average number of patients per day: 90 to 110

Days worked per month: 10 to 12

Top five products used: American Orthodontics’ Empower® Self-Ligating Brackets, ceramic and regular (American Orthodontics); 3M’s Transbond Plus Self Etching Primer, Transbond Light Cure Adhesive, Glass Ionomer Cement, and curing lights; topsOrtho software; OrthoBanc; 3Shape’s ?Trios® Intraoral Scanner

Website: [/sidebar]

The reasons for the solid numbers are multifold, but McCamish believes member confidence starts from the organizational aspects of the AAO, and the challenge “is to continually make all our members aware of the many benefits that are available to them—many of which they don’t even know exist.”

One such benefit is the AAO Annual Session, one of the largest trade gatherings in the world. In the most recent survey, the AAO Staff and AAO Services provided were rated as a top member benefit.

As for those remaining 12% who refuse to join? McCamish believes it all comes down to effectively communicating value and making them aware of the programs and services that are available for them as members. The AAO is the only organization that represents only orthodontists.

“We know that the renewal rate this past year was 98.5%, and that’s based on all members who were billed in 2014,” says McCamish. “They either renewed, returned, or we learned that they were deceased. We have 1,333 AAO student members in the United States and Canada, and our goal is to retain all of them when they become practicing orthodontists.”

Compared to the American Dental Association (ADA), the percentage of AAO members is quite high. According to McCamish, who recently returned from a meeting with ADA officers in Chicago, only 63.8% of all licensed dentists in the United States are members of the ADA.

And some of those dentists are avidly practicing orthodontics—a hot topic that engenders more than its share of opinions. In fact, the board of trustees recently learned from the results of various phone surveys and face-to-face interviews, conducted by an independent consultant, that the number one concern of 47% of AAO members was general practitioners/nonspecialists doing orthodontics.

McCamish shares the concern, and contends that the best way to compete with dentists is “by doing a better job and establishing standards versus guidelines for our members,” all the while educating patients about the true nature and health benefits of quality orthodontic treatment. The primary concern is always that patients should receive the proper treatment by the best-trained individuals to provide the needed and indicated care.

Coming in second on the list of concerns raised by 20% of respondents to the survey was “commoditization of our profession, vendor issues, and corporate entry into the delivery of orthodontic treatment,” says McCamish, who emphasizes, “Orthodontic treatment is not a commodity, but is a personal service.”

Next on the list of concerns raised was why the AAO cannot control the number of orthodontic programs and the number of orthodontists. As McCamish points out, “As long as programs meet the standards established by CODA, new programs can be established.

“The Site Visitors and the Orthodontic Review Committee must ensure that programs completely comply with CODA Standards,” continues McCamish, but there are avenues that could be pursued to address the issue. “Possible considerations would include full time equivalent of faculty, certificates of need, and being associated with a dental school—existing programs would be grandfathered in.”


McCamish is a partner in a practice with Kenneth C. Dyer, DDS, MDS (left), and Jeril R. Cooper IV, DMD (right).

A Rewarding Career

McCamish describes the profession of orthodontics as a uniquely satisfying career that allows its practitioners to boost patients’ self-esteem and improve smiles. Working through organizations such as the AAO-sponsored Donated Orthodontic Services (DOS) program or the nonprofit Smiles Change Lives, the AAO estimates that AAO members provide $60 to $70 million in pro bono care each year. Organizations like these have significantly expanded the ability to reach those who otherwise can’t afford orthodontic care.

At home, in his Tennessee-based practice, McCamish and his partners, Cooper and Dyer, opted to provide pro bono care solely through DOS. Recently, the partners provided treatment to a young woman from Haiti who presented with a Class II, division 1 malocclusion, with an extremely severe protrusion. McCamish explains, “She had no financial resources, and she had a visa that was going to expire within a year, but we were glad to help. She had been bullied, made fun of, and treated poorly, but things improved when she got back home after receiving treatment. When asked if others had noticed, she replied, ‘They did not recognize me.’”

Closer to home, McCamish, who was raised in East Chattanooga, Tenn, is often recognized in the community, and those former patients often take the time to thank him. “Sometimes it’s awkward when you get asked if they remember you,” he says with a chuckle. “I frequently tell them that I remember their smile. I think the most gratifying part of helping anyone who comes into your practice is that you know you’ve done something to help them throughout their life.”

Photo courtesy of DeWayne B. McCamish, DDS, MS.

Photo courtesy of DeWayne B. McCamish, DDS, MS.

When not attending to professional duties, McCamish plays competitive tennis at a level that has earned him local, state, and southern titles. He has been inducted into both the Chattanooga Sports Hall of Fame and the Tennessee Tennis Hall of Fame. He also enjoys golf, snow skiing, yoga, coaching his grandkids, and spending time with his wife, Marilyn, and his grandchildren. He and Marilyn, who will be married 50 years this July, have three adult children and five grandchildren, and reside in Signal Mountain, Tenn.

As a young man, McCamish mowed yards and worked at Engel Stadium selling peanuts and popcorn—eventually landing at the Chattanooga Glass Company and Lonas Construction digging ditches and laying asphalt. Many jobs followed, and all of it contributed to a fierce work ethic that has led to almost 43 years in private practice and a successful career in orthodontics.

“I like the sayings, ‘If it’s worth doing, then it is worth doing right,’ and ‘If you don’t have enough time now to do it right, when will you have enough time later to do it again,’” says McCamish. “Dr Ralph White was one of the biggest influences in my leadership career. [Once,] Ralph asked Dr Jim Vaden and me to go with him for breakfast during a [University of Tennessee] Orthodontic Alumni Meeting. Ralph said, ‘You two boys can go far in our profession, and within orthodontic leadership.’ He encouraged Jim and me to continue with that in mind, and we have.

“I feel fortunate to have made the decision to pursue orthodontics as a specialty,” adds McCamish. “There is an indescribable satisfaction with being able to change lives by creating not just an aesthetic smile for a lifetime, but more importantly a healthy, functional occlusion, which is actually as important as the aesthetics.

“Patients don’t always love you while they are going through treatment, but afterwards they become your best source of referrals. I now have treated children of children of children. What a great profession we enjoy, and what a great service we are able to provide for so many.” OP

Greg Thompson is a freelance writer for Orthodontic Products. He can be reached at [email protected].