Orthodontic Products Chief Editor Alison Werner talks to AAO President Dr Ken Dillehay and Chris Bentson, president of Bentson Copple & Associates, about the recent AAO Winter Conference held in January. The first in-person AAO meeting since 2020, the conference was an opportunity for orthodontists at all stages of their career to not only gather information about how practice modalities are changing, but to ask questions of those peers who are leading the way. And this wasn’t a meeting purely focused on how OSOs are changing the practice landscape. It touched on how dual specialty practices—specifically pediatric dentistry and orthodontics—are gaining traction within the industry and how digital technology is changing the orthodontic practice. 

In this interview, Dillehay and Bentson, who was a members of the Winter Conference planning committee, highlight the presentations and panels that most resonated with attendees and the questions that got everyone talking. And they remind viewers that AAO members can still access the meeting recordings if they didn’t get a chance to attend in January. 

Dillehay closes out the interview talking about what AAO members can expect at the AAO Annual Session in Miami Beach in May, whether in-person or virtually, and offers advice for those planning to be there in Florida. OP 


– Hello, I’m Alison Werner, and I’m the chief editor of Orthodontic Products. At the end of January, the American Association of Orthodontists held its winter conference where the focus was on how the orthodontic practice is evolving. There are so many more business pathways available to today’s orthodontists, and the AAO set out to explore those and help provide attendees like you with information and data you need to determine the right practice modality match for your career progression. But today, I wanted to talk to Doctor Ken Dillehay, who is the president of the AAO, and Chris Bentson, who is the president of Bentson Copple & Associates, and they were the key organizers, of course, for the event, but I wanted to find out from them what they took away from the meeting i.e., what are you and your peers thinking about when it comes to OSOs and DSOs group practices? What it takes to start a new solo practice? And what are the concerns you have when it comes to the business side of running an orthodontic practice? But more importantly, where do you think the discussion about practice modalities needs to go next? So thank you two for joining me today.

– Sure, thanks for having us Alison.

– Great, well, Doctor Dillehay, lemme start with you. This was the first in-person event since the pandemic for the AAO, how did it go?

– Oh my gosh. Well, it was a little bit touch and go. We knew that we had a really robust winter conference in the spring of 2020 to talk about open bites in Austin, Texas, and so we’re kinda hoping to build on that momentum, and of course, ’21, we had a winter conference on aligners, and it was a great conference, but it also was a virtual conference. So, we were really excited going into the conference thinking about the topic, thinking about the people, thinking about the process, thinking about Orlando, Florida, in late January. We just had all these pieces coming together, and just felt so good about it. Chris and I even talked about one time maybe we’re gonna need to expand our hotel block. And Unfortunately, Omicron, sort of threw us a curve ball, and we were prepared in the sense that we were gonna conduct this meeting in both a face-to-face setting and a hybrid setting or a virtual setting. And so I think that helped us make the meeting really successful. We had similar numbers, I think we actually may have had a few more virtual attendees than we actually did in-person, but it was really good for those people that were in the room face-to-face interacting with each other, interacting with the vendors that were there, and just basically having a really good time getting back together.

– Yeah, no, exactly. So going into the conference, why this topic?

– Well, in most interactions that I have with members, in some way, this topic generally comes up, and it’s a topic that really affects essentially everybody in practice, whether they’re mid-career, end-career, beginning-career, and so there’s just a lot of information out there, and it was an opportunity to consolidate that, package that, have an opportunity for attendees to see the people that they hear about, be able to interact with them, be able to ask questions, and so it was just a subject material that I think has just kind of reached a point where it was just timely. It was just important to hear the message.

– Yeah, and Chris, for you, you were part of the planning committee for the winter conference. What were your goals going into the conference for the panels that you were putting together?

– Yeah, well, when you think about the title of the meeting was the Evolution of the Ortho Practice, and so that’s what we wanted to highlight is, when you rewind the orthodontic career tape, you’re just 30 years, when I started in orthodontics, you basically got outta your program, you could go work as an associate, or you could start your own practice, and that’s kind of what you did, and then if you worked as an associate, you became a partner or you bounced out of that and started or did de novo. Those were the options. Over the last 30 years, we saw orthodontists starting to work inside large dental practices, pediatric practices, DSOs, now we have OSOs, now we have people, orthodontist partnering. So there’s just a lot of, there’s been a lot of change, a lot of evolution. So we wanted to highlight that, I think one of the things you tend to think if you’re my age, 60 years old, is I started practicing this way. I’m gonna end practicing this way, but there’s a lot of options all through your practice life cycle now, and we wanted to highlight that. So we started with the numbers from gauge in the AAO, then we highlighted through the next few days, the different ways to do things. And I think it was interesting. I think the highest rated lecture was done by Shannon Patterson on resident options. And I think there was a lot of information that no one had before in that lecture about what the pay is, how difficult or easy it is to find somebody with the stats, or of how long residents stay, or am I gonna be able to find a partner or buyer for my practice? So, the content was fantastic. It was the first time, we weren’t talking about clinical stuff, and I don’t know if the winter conference has ever been like that. So, courageous on Doctor Dillehay’s part to bring it forward. And we found some great speakers, had some great, all facets were represented, and that was just the content I think we’ll be listening to over and over and over. Feedback I’ve gotten afterwards was, gosh, I heard the conference was great. I wasn’t there, but I’m gonna buy the tape. So I think it’ll live on beyond its weekend.

– Yeah. Well, you mentioned Shannon Patterson’s panel but beyond that, what were the ones that you thought really resonated or you were surprised that people were really engaged with the topic or that you realized, maybe we need to do more on this?

– Well, I think we did a lot of new things, but two of the things we did is we did two pretty big panels. And so we did one at the end of the first day with the OSO, some of the current leaders in that space. These are people that folks had an image of. But what I think that panel did on the OSOs was brought a humanity to them that they’re actually very thoughtful people, very bright people. It’s not for everybody, only 6% of our specialty is with these groups right now and growing. But they’re not Darth Vader. They can fit in some instances to these folks. We did a panel at the end of the second day with all the speakers. And that was a larger array of speakers. The feedback that I think we received was the panels were the favorite thing from the audience, both virtual and in person, because it wasn’t just slides. It was free form content where the constituents got to ask questions, and the panelists got to answer through an array. Then we had a lot of time for those. So, that was a relatively new format for this meeting. I think it’s one that maybe adopted going forwards. It was a good way to sum up days, and give a little bit more raw feeling and experience to the users.

– Well, talking about that raw feeling, what were some of the questions that struck you or the concerns that the constituents raised as you were listening to these panels?

– Yeah. The OSO thing, Ken was a risk, right?

– It was to some degree.

– The AAO asking the OSOs to come be a part of AAO sponsored meeting. And we asked some questions, are you gonna support the AAO? Are you gonna change the way that the doctors choose to practice? And like I said, I think there’s a lot of information conveyed that we get images of doing things differently than we did. Even the pedo-ortho. There was a lot of pedo-ortho, there I think we had two or three speakers that were pedo-ortho. That’s, I described that as kind of chocolate and peanut butter. Both good separate but really good together. And there was a lot of interaction in those discussions with the pedo-ortho groups about how do you structure those? How do you do those? Is that a good hedge against the corporate? So, the AAO didn’t put one mode forward that they were endorsing or the best, they said, hey, there’s a lot, we’ve evolved. There’s a lot of different paths, and they’re not inherently good or evil, but our job in this meeting was to educate you about these options. I think we did a great job with that with some phenomenal speakers and some first time speakers that were really exceptional.

– Oh, that’s great. Great. Well, with these conferences, they’re a great way to also hear from the orthodontists what they’re experiencing on the ground every day in their practices. What was your takeaway on the issues that they’re thinking about, especially as you go into the AAO annual session?

– I think so. I think most of the speakers touched on the way that digital is changing our lives away from analog. And very generically, you could say analog is brackets and wires, and digital is using computers and software and other tools to design your diagnosis and treatment. And so people are concerned about how to navigate through that world because we know the analog world so well, it’s how we’ve done it for primarily the last 80 years, but it’s gonna be a digital world. All the data points us that way. We had Chris bone break Jackson, who has just got a tremendous background talking a little bit about that world, and how excited she is to see not what’s here but yet to come for the orthodontic space in the digital space. And pretty much every orthodontist touched on in some ways, how digital is changing you the way they look at data, the way they diagnose and treat, the way they prepare and speak to the consumer. Those are all things that the AAO conference is going to address among other things. And that’s a big topic that was a sideline, but addressed a little bit in this conference as well.

– Yeah, excellent. Well, so Doctor Dillehay back to more focused on that AAO annual session that’s coming up in Miami beach. What are you looking forward to?

– Well, I’m just hoping to have a good, robust session that’s free of any more variance that throw us another curve ball. Sort of that. I think we’ll be very successful. We weren’t able to be together in Atlanta in 2020 or in Boston in 2021. So, I’m hoping there’s a significant pint up demand. We didn’t get to go to Honolulu and see the beach in Waikiki but we are gonna get to see the beach in Miami. So, I’m really looking forward to it. The convention center is awesome. It’s virtually brand new. There’s about a million and a half square foot of space in it. About 500,000 can be dedicated to the, excuse me, the exhibit hall and south beach. There’s so much activity and such a fun place to be. And just a great place to have a meeting. I will tell you that we have struggled a little bit since we were a little bit late to the party in obtaining housing for a lot of the people that are attending. So as you put this message out, I would certainly encourage ’em to register early and get their housing early. Because as people register a little bit later, the distance that they’re gonna travel from the convention center to their hotel is gonna be expanded even then maybe into downtown Miami itself. So we’re, I think our numbers are right on track when we compare those with the numbers that we had the last time we were on the East Coast face to face, and that was in Washington DC in 2018. And so we’re tracking pretty well at this point. We just hope that continues. And we don’t have any more hiccups.

– Yes, fingers crossed. Well, as I understand, AAO members can still access some of the winter conference materials, correct?

– They can.

– If they missed out on some of the panel. Okay, great.

– I wanna tell you this one little story. I mean, Chrystal can concur on this, but there’s all this planning and all this detail, and all this emphasis and you get the people in assembled, and you get ’em in line and you get everything’s going, and you get ’em micd up and you get ’em behind the curtain. I mean, there’s just all this robust activity that you just can’t describe unless you’ve seen it. And then all of a sudden in the middle of a virtual presentation from one of our presenters, the internet goes out. How does that happen? How does that happen? So, supposed to face audience for a talk time, we’re like, well, the show’s gotta go on. So we pick up and go, but we’ve got this huge virtual audience out there that we’re trying to get information to. So, it’s like, ah, well, I could, why would you even think you had to par for something like that, but it was having very well, but the point is that, because we had that little hiccup, we did open that up for an additional time that people have access to that information. No additional charge. And we hope they’ll take advantage of that.

– Yeah. Is there a plan to have a virtual component for the annual session?

– Yes, I think all meetings going forward with AAO will have a virtual component. They’ll all be hybrid meetings.

– Oh, great. I think that will definitely increase the reach out there. So excellent.

– Hybrid means two things. I mean, you could be remote and be hybrid, or you could be sitting with your toes in the sand on the beach hybrid. Sure you can.

– I promised to have my laptop out.

– Just be sure you’re under an umbrella, so you don’t get sunburn, right.

– Sure enough. I’ll be careful. Well, thank you both so much for joining me today. And I look forward to seeing you both in Miami. It sounds like the winter conference has opened up the need for more discussions about the future of orthodontic practice. And I’m sure those discussions will continue in Miami at the annual session. And thank you to our listeners. To keep up with the latest orthodontic industry news and to find past podcast, visit our website at orthodonticproductsonline.com. Thanks for joining us. Take care.