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Matthew Ng, DMD, MSD, a board-certified orthodontist practicing in Cypress, Katy, and College Station, Texas, joins the podcast this week to talk about getting involved in orthodontic leadership at the state, regional, and national level. 

Ng is the current vice president and American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) delegate for the Southwest Society of Orthodontists (SWSO) and the current secretary and college counselor representing the SWSO at the College of Diplomats of the American Board of Orthodontics. He is also the current chair for the AAO Council on Membership, Ethics, and Judiciary Concerns. 

In this episode, he not only talks about how to get started in orthodontic leadership, but he also talks about the benefits and the time commitment. 

  • Mentors were key to Ng’s involvement in professional leadership. He reflects on how mentors found during his residency and as he began practicing were key. Those mentors included Rolf “Buzz” Behrents, DDS, MS, PhD (Hon), the current editor-in-chief of the AJO-DO, and former AAO President Ken Dillehay, DDS, MS, who helped him see the bigger picture.
  • He shares that initially he was one of those people who “sit on the sidelines and grumble about what you may not like about your state, regional, or national orthodontic societies or associations.” But once his practice was up and running, he realized it was time to step off the sidelines and effect positive change to the profession.
  • There are a myriad of issues facing the profession, but Ng talks about two issues that are at the top of the AAO’s agenda, namely the student debt crisis and direct to consumer orthodontics. With regard to the former, he talks about the advocacy work of the AAO PAC and Council on Government Affairs; and on the latter, he talks about how the AAO and state dental boards have been working together effectively.
  • Orthodontic leadership provides interested orthodontists with many different opportunities have an impact. If orthodontists are interested in getting involved, Ng recommends starting a conversation with your AAO trustee or your current state or constituent president. Tell them you’re interested. On the other end, Ng also recommends that current leaders identify younger peers who could have an impact. He points out that the AAO mentorship program is a key program for doing just that.
  • Ng breaks down how much time his orthodontic leadership actives entail. Of course it depends on whether you are part of a committee or on the board; and there is a difference between the time commitment necessary for involvement at the state/regional level vs the national level. But whatever your availability, there is a position for you, says Ng. OP

Dr Matthew Ng on leadership
Podcast Transcript

Alison Werner 0:10
Welcome to the orthodontic products podcast. I’m your host Alison Werner. In this episode, I talked to Dr. Matthew Ng at board certified orthodontist in private practice in Texas. He’s here to talk about getting involved in leadership at the state, regional and national level and the benefits to the time commitment. And he explains how to get started. Here’s our conversation, doctor, and thank you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate it.

Dr Matthew Ng 0:31
Oh, my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

So to get started, can you tell me a little bit about your current practice? You’re practicing in Katy and I think Cypress Texas, is that correct? Yeah. So

the suburbs of Houston, Texas, and actually have a now a third office. But I when I first graduated, I practiced in Vancouver, Canada for the first few years of my career in a group, Pediatric Dentistry and orthodontic setting, but I moved to Houston in the fall of 2008 at the very start of the financial crisis, so kind of being new to Houston and not the exactly the best economic environment at the time, I worked at a small DSO in the Houston area. But once I kind of got the lay of the land and economy started coming back, I opened my first orthodontic practice in the suburbs of North Katy in 2010. With my good friend and from orthodontic residency, orthodontic residency, and my business partner, Dr. Patricia Tran, while still working at the DSO for a side hustle. In 2013, I opened my second office in Cyprus, this was in a group practice setting. So alongside some general dentists and other dental specialists, and that practice has since been acquired by DSO of six, seven years ago. And then more recently, I started a third practice working again in a in a pediatric dentistry, orthodontic combo environment in College Station, Texas, that’s been a really great blessing and the relationship has been going really well so far. So it

Alison Werner 1:55
seems like you really appreciate kind of having that collaborative, multi specialty practice environment.

Dr Matthew Ng 2:01
Absolutely. I mean, you know, from my early days working in Vancouver, I realize that that kind of special nature where people want to come in one stop shop, if you want to call it where they can, you know, have their dental, dental or pediatric needs taken care of at the same time, we can remove wires, you know, for their for their cleanings and hygiene appointments, if necessary, and just that collaborative nature with other professionals and specialists, and whenever we need cases that require multidisciplinary care, so it’s been fantastic. That’s great.

Alison Werner 2:31
Well, the reason I want to talk to you today is because I heard through a kind of mutual acquaintance of ours, a longtime board member of ours, Dr. Howard Fine. And he was impressed kind of with your role in leadership. And so I wanted to learn more about that. And you know, why that’s become important as part of your career. So you have taken on leadership roles at both the state and regional level? What motivated you to become involved in that leadership? And what are you doing today? What kind of roles do you hold today at that level?

Dr Matthew Ng 3:01
Well, I really have kind of like three or four mentors that I can really look back in, you know, in my career, and thank you for that motivation. The first two were from my days as an orthopedic resident at St. Louis University. The first gentleman was the one who took a chance on me and accepted me into the program. And that was Dr. Paco Rougeau. My first chairman, and I remember my ortho interview very vividly with him and sitting across his desk, and he looked at me and said, I can tell you’re a leader. And I said, you want to come here and be my student? You know, for those of you who have ever visited the facilities at St. Louis University, it’s like, you know, the kind of running joke is kinda like the Taj Mahal of orthodontic programs, because the facilities and the and the the building are absolutely magnificent. So I, of course, emphatically responded with a big yes. And then, lo and behold, roughly eight months later, I matriculated there and started my journey at St. Louis University. So for reasons beyond this, you know, the time for this conversation, he actually had to leave during my residency to go back to his home country in Brazil. But with every part of change the other there’s what I call a silver lining around every dark cloud. And that brought in the second gentleman who was has been extremely influential and kind of this this leadership journey, and that’s Dr. Buzz Behrents, of course, our editor of our AJO-DO, who I finished my residency with. And again, I remember sitting across his desk during our exit interviews in the last month of our residency and he told me that think about this profession that you work so hard now to be a part of, and what are you going to do to now that you’re entering the profession to leave it better than when you entered it. And those words are kind of always stuck with me during the course of my career. And I still keep in touch with both of these giants in our profession to this very day and feel very blessed to have them in my life. The third and fourth individuals. The third gentleman is Dr. David Kennedy. And he was my first boss when I first moved to Vancouver, Canada to start my orthodontic career. And at the time he was just rolling off his presidential year as from the Royal College of Dentists in Canada, kind of like the American Board, if you want to call it, and he was involved in a variety, different leadership roles and capacities up in the northwest, you know, and surely that name is probably very familiar with a lot of practicing doctors in the northwest, unfortunately, recently passed away. And I think back, you know, 20 years ago when I first met him, and just kind of that influence that he the positive influence that he’s he’s kind of had in my life as a newly minted orthodontist. And he always managed to kind of keep my head on straight and to always look at the bigger picture. And then, the last gentleman, you know, was a recent AAO president, Dr. Ken Dillehay, who’s from the southwest society, from Kansas. And I started kind of rolling on into the Southwest society, as you know, Dr. Dillehay was our trustee and then eventually ascended into AAO, executive positions, but he was the kind of the one who really kind of, you know, got me involved, not just in the regional level, but also a little bit in the national level. And, you know, kind of just leaving me and putting me in on track. And just getting me more involved essentially, and for, for that I have much appreciation for and, and again, just tremendous, positive influence in my life. But it’s kind of always easy to kind of sit on the sidelines and grumble about what you may not like about your state, regional or national orthodontic societies or associations. And I was kind of one of those people. And but once I got my practice kind of going and financially in a more stable position, that’s when I decided to get involved. So I didn’t want to just necessary sit on the sidelines anymore, but kind of get, you know, get into the ring, and hopefully effect more positive change in our profession, you know, through all of our various different organized orthodontic Institute associations and institutions.

Alison Werner 6:47
So presently, what positions do you hold on those different within those different groups?

Dr Matthew Ng 6:53
Sure, yeah, I’m happy to share with the audience. So I’m current vice president and AAO delegate for the Southwest society of orthodontists. My presidential year will will be in 2025. I’m the current secretary and college counselor representing the SWSO on the College of diplomats of the American Board of orthodontics, and that latter ascension, kind of my presidential will be in 2027. And I’m the current chair for the AAO Council on membership ethics and judiciary concerns. I’ve served on that council for last four years, and currently the service chair. So all these different organizations that were directly involved with, you know, just have a really, you know, passion for for various different reasons. One common theme, though, however, in no matter what group I’m in is just meeting meeting and working alongside other orthodontic colleagues who kind of share that same passion for our amazing profession. Oh, excellent.

Alison Werner 7:43
Well, I’m curious what issues facing orthodontists are kind of on your radar or what, what were the issues that kind of you wanted to be a part of? Well,

Dr Matthew Ng 7:52
it’s not necessarily so much of what I wanted to be a part of like, when I first got involved in leadership. Like I said, there were a myriad of issues kind of facing the profession. But once I’ve kind of gotten more involved in and kind of see seeing all the different things that the AAO does for for our profession, you know, there’s a couple different ones that that certainly come to mind. The first one is certainly direct to consumer care. So it’s still very prevalent today. Slowly but surely, surely, we’re we’ve had been chipping away at the State Dental boards and state legislators across the country, really educating them about the required safety and direct supervision that is necessary for any and all orthodontic treatment. So really, a big shout out to the AAO, legal staff and team, they’ve helped us a lot here, here in Texas directly, really, for their work and effort on this front, as really as well as really updating badly needed language in terms of teledentistry, for the safe practice of, you know, that newer kind of technology that we have in orthodontics kind of been around in medicine for a good number of years. But depending on the state where you practice, some states didn’t have any language regarding teledentistry, Texas being one of those states. So really working hand in hand your last several years with with the AAO has been, like I said, a real blessing with their component of support. But another really big issue, I believe, and probably not not, I think we all know about it, but maybe we don’t talk about it enough, and really faces a lot of our kind of our new and younger orthodontists entering our into our profession. And that was really the rising cost of tuition and some of the debt load that’s acquired during their studies to become an orthodontist. I remember about three or four years ago, I think they said the average orthodontist was graduating with about $430,000 of student loans. And then more recently, just in the past year, some of those numbers now coming out are are are over 20 or 20%. More than that already. So they’re already over $500,000. So that kind of has like a kind of a rippling effect, you know, all throughout our profession. Certainly student loan reform is something that badly needs to happen at the federal level. And that’s where you know, the AAO PAC and council and Governmental Affairs have really been working hard on that advocacy with with those federal legislators. But many of these docs really can’t afford to buy a practice or, or secure loans to open a practice. So as a result, many of them are left with little options coming out of residency, you know, having to work as employees or, you know, in a corporate setting for an extended period of time. And don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with with working corporate, if that’s truly you know, what the doctor wants, and maybe what’s the best situation for that doctor. But I believe there are so many rewards on both not only the financial, but also personal levels of owning your own practice. And with the resources that we have today, and social media avenues, it’s can be much more easily achieved compared to 10 or 20 years ago.

Alison Werner 10:43
Well, it sounds like, you know, just, you know, you talked about how it wasn’t necessarily one issue that brought you into leadership and being active. It sounds like you know, for someone who is on the fence, or who isn’t sure how to get involved, there are so many different avenues they can pursue once they are involved. It’s just a matter of, you know, just stepping up.

Dr Matthew Ng 11:03
Yeah, so a lot of this, people just don’t necessarily know that, that there’s different opportunities. So whether it be insurance, orthodontic insurance, whether it be membership, whether it be Governmental Affairs, whatever, may pique your interest in terms of potentially entering into a leadership type of role. First of all, talk to someone, talk to whether it be your AAO trustee your your current state or constituent president, but tell someone that you’re interested in getting involved, because one of the things that we’ve identified at the constituent level, at least within the SWSO and SAO, is that we kind of, you know, there’s a lot of people that are afraid to step forward and speak up, as you mentioned, or maybe they weren’t even sure if they’re ready to get involved. So we can really kind of make it a point to brainstorm and come up with a list of of names or people who we feel we can kind of tap on that shoulder. And because that’s sometimes it’s all it takes is for someone to come up to you and say, hey, you know, I think you’re a great individual and you seem like a really motivated person and love our profession, how would you like to get involved. And sometimes all this, this little tap is all it takes, and, but kind of take that one step further. You know, we are very proud of our leadership program that we developed within our constituent SAO. This is something that has been done for many, many years. And and once the SWSO kind of caught wind of that we replicated the same. And we’ve offered enough since 2015. And that’s kind of our own leadership program. And, you know, we invite all members to apply. And so those people have already shown interest, and they’ve taken the time out of their busy schedules to kind of learn more about the inner workings of, of the AAO and our regional societies. And that right, there is a list of our future leaders. And interestingly enough, I’m actually also a past participant of the program back in 2017. So really worthwhile.

Alison Werner 13:01
Yeah. Well, I’m wondering, as you’re talking, you talked about how important mentors were to you, I’m noticing that, you know, within these leadership positions, it offers an opportunity to not only be mentored, but to also be a mentor. So can you speak a little bit to that?

Dr Matthew Ng 13:17
Yeah, so one program, that that may not necessarily be known to all people, the AAO has had this for a number of years is the mentorship program. Now it’s, it’s called, it’s gone through different names over the years. But again, I mean, we have so many amazing leaders and mentors in our profession, where we supply our name and background information, you know, to the AAO, and they try and match us up with, you know, prospective mentees, if you want to call them for people looking for guidance on whatever it might be, it could be a situation where it’s just getting gaining more confidence in different clinical cases. Or it could be a situation where they’re asking for guidance in terms of buying in a practice or buying a practice or setting up a new practice, whatever it might be. The AAO has different resources available for that. But as you mentioned, you know, as you know, a leader in some of our different organizations, you know, part of that is is kind of stepping up and you’re willing to mentor, the next generation of Orthodontists who are coming in and, and really the future of our profession.

Alison Werner 14:19
So I know, you know, there’s probably listeners who would love to know what kind of time and resource commitment does being involved in leadership involved. Can you talk a little bit about your how you balance?

Dr Matthew Ng 14:30
Yeah, so it really all depends, of course on on how you decide to get involved. So if you’re, let’s say you want to start at the state level and maybe on your on your state ortho board, it might might be only a one hour call or half an hour call and on a monthly or bimonthly basis, and then maybe an in person meeting once or twice a year, but certainly having a good reading and writing skills and communication in the form of emails will go a long, long way. Timely communication is certainly important. So for me, I typically spend my later evening hours reading and kind sync up on emails, usually with Netflix on the background. But whenever I have some downtime and downtime in the office, or maybe a patient cancellation, then I’ll also try and catch up on emails as well. But if you’re on a regional society, maybe on a committee, you may only have to correspond by email a few times a year, usually centered around a certain time of the year. If you’re a board member of a regional society or constituent, then yes, it’s maybe a little bit more involved, usually have at least two or three in person all day board, board meetings and a little bit more email. But at the national level, you know, certainly if you’re an AAO trustee, or something of that level, then be prepared for essentially another part time job. So I certainly respect all of our AAO trustees for all their time and commitments, you know, to our specialty. So as mentioned before, you know, there are positions and leadership for various different levels of time commitment, whether, you know, it’d be a lot or just a little there, you know, anyone who wants to get involved. There’s, there’s time, and there’s a position for for for everyone. So certainly anybody listening or reading, this wants to get involved or has questions about getting involved. Certainly, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I’m happy to assist any way that I can. Great.

Alison Werner 16:09
Well, I’m curious how does being in leadership impact you as a practicing orthodontist and your practice.

Dr Matthew Ng 16:15
So I believe I may have kind of briefly mentioned this already. But I really try to be a leader in in pretty much any instance or every instance where I need to be. So since I work in a practice setting with other dental professionals, is really important that I share my vision with them so that they can see the direct benefits of orthodontic treatments, and of course, timely referral. So I sincerely hope all of our referring dentists have that confidence in our team’s ability. But also important, or just as important is to really share that that vision with my staff and employees. Because anytime I want to introduce something new or new technology into the practice, it’s important that I have 100% 100% staff buy in from from the employees, because without that buy in and support new initiatives will usually fail. So it’s important that they see and understand why I believe this new piece of technology or this new system that we’re trying to implement is ultimately beneficial to the practice.

Alison Werner 17:09
It’s kind of a two part question, you know, as an orthodontist, what are your goals, but then what are your leadership goals as well.

Dr Matthew Ng 17:19
So in terms of as an orthodontist, really, my my my main goal and why I love being an orthodontist is really to affect positive change in the lives with as many patients as I can, as I can, through direct care and contact. I believe this is kind of part of Chick Fil A’s vision statement, which is to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick fil A, but I kind of, you know, incorporate a lot that into our own, you know, practices vision statement, because I believe we’re more than just you know, straighteners of teeth or fixing bites, but we really help patients gain confidence in their smiles, whether it whether it be overcoming bullying, or maybe even motivate patients, for patients to become an orthodontist themselves one day. So I know I personally have at least four former patients that have either finished dental school or or are currently going through dental school, they’ve all come and shadow and spent some time in their practice with at least one of them interested in a career in orthodontics. So there are so many lessons that we can impart on our patients through the course of their treatment, proper care of their appliances, of course, compliance with their aligners or rubber bands, work ethic, motivation, determination, all these really important life lessons. And it’s always great to hear about former patients through, you know, younger siblings and, you know, hearing about their success stories later in life. Because that ultimately is is why love, as I mentioned being orthodontist, because it’s just forming those oftentimes lifelong relationships with patients and families. As to your second question, really, it’s leaving the profession in a better place than when I entered it. You know, the wise words of of Dr. Behrents, Jim Vaden. And others, you really want to motivate the teams around me to execute the vision that I have for the task at hand or for the practice. So what I’ve learned is that people follow leaders, they will work harder for leaders, they don’t want to let down their leader or let the team down. So if I have ever had that ability to to motivate a group of people, you know, to that to the to that kind of level. That’s ultimately you know, my biggest goal.

Alison Werner 19:12
You talked a little bit. We’ve touched on this a little bit, but I think if you could really break it down. What is your advice to orthodontists who want to get involved but don’t know where to start to get involved in leadership.

Dr Matthew Ng 19:23
So I mentioned the SWSO SAO Leadership Program. The next one starts in January of 2024. And we hold it every two years. But the other program, which is tremendous, and it’s open for all AAO members is the AAO Leadership Program, which is typically held every year during the midwinter conference, you know, reach out to your constituent leaders, because there’s a certain number of people that can apply every year. But again, just a really great program educating participants participants on all the various different levels of the AAO and therefore that list is then handed back to the constituent. So they have a list of people that again have shown that they’re interested in and could potentially be a resource for that little tap on the shoulder. But don’t be afraid to speak up. Don’t be afraid to approach people. Because I guarantee you if you’re interested in serving the your various different organizations, there’s going to be a spot for you. I’d be happy to have you

Alison Werner 20:15
one last question, what excites you about the future of the profession?

Dr Matthew Ng 20:18
Well, it’s actually a concern and an excitement. And it’s, it’s really, I believe, we need to be the best stewards for Clinical Excellence in our profession. You know, it’s really exciting to kind of see the advances of the ABO over the recent years, which, which, of course, are promoting clinical excellence, where I believe now over 61% of all AAO members are board certified. But certainly with the rise in digital orthodontics, and different treatment modalities, digital treatment modalities, it may seem easy, or at least easier than ever to deliver orthodontic care. However, I believe it’s still on us as the clinicians to prepare a proper diagnosis thoughtfully prepare a treatment plan. And of course, proper execution of that treatment plan. So it’s, you know, maybe a little bit convenient just to upload a digital scan or some pictures into a program and just click accept. But really learning and honing our craft is more important than ever in today’s digital world. So if there’s any treatment modality that can move people’s teeth, I always say we need to be the experts at it. Otherwise, we’re going to have corporate interests and maybe non qualified people, or non qualified practitioners saying that, that we’re just glorified teeth straighteners. So the advances that we have today with digital equipment, 3d printing, digital treatment planning, have made things kind of all, you know, definitely more convenient, not only of course in the office, but in the effective delivery of care and convenience for our patients. So it’s a really exciting time to be in the orthodontic profession. If people call the golden age of orthodontics, you know, 25, 30 years ago, I kind of believe we’re entering entering to the platinum age orthodontics, because really the sky’s the limit. And you know, it’s it’s an exciting time. But there’s lots of learning out there.

Alison Werner 21:57
Well, Dr. Ng thank you so much for your time and for sharing kind of your experience in leadership and hopefully this motivates some other people to get involved.

Dr Matthew Ng 22:05
Again, thanks again, so much for having me. This was absolute pleasure. And again, for the any of the audience members, please don’t ever hesitate to reach out and contact me if there’s ever an interest in leadership in orthodontics.

Alison Werner 22:16
As always, thank you for joining us. Be sure to subscribe to the orthodontic products podcast to keep up with the latest episodes. And be sure to check out orthodontic products to keep up with the latest industry news. Until next time, take care.