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Questions Arise In the Wake of the American Dental Association Investment In a Pair of Dental Startups


With the decision to invest money in Overjet and Oral Genome, the American Dental Association raises questions about potential conflicts on interest.

Questions Arise In the Wake of the American Dental Association Investment In a Pair of Dental Startups

Recently the ADA News published an article outlining the latest investment moves from the American Dental Association (ADA), and this new investment strategy includes directly investing in dental technology start-ups.

In the ADA News coverage, the investments are described as being made for financial gain only, and not as an endorsement of specific brands and products. However, the article also included descriptions of the products and services these companies offer.

The ADA serves as an advisor to the industry, and its role has included providing impartial advice to issues facing dentists. The ADA also provides education for dentists, which is supposed to be delivered in an impartial, non-promotional manner.

So, it is difficult to understand how when a dentist learns the ADA has invested funds in companies that produce products, they will think anything other than that these products are being endorsed by the ADA. There is also a problem that competitors of these companies may feel their similar products are being treated unfairly by the ADA.

To quote the mission statement of the ADA, “It is to help dentists succeed and support the advancement of the health of the public.” Their philosophy is, “Built on the foundation of our values—humanity, excellence, integrity, trust, and stewardship—we serve as leaders in our community.” Their vision is, “To be a premier governmental entity, demonstrating fiscal responsibility and professional excellence, and to be recognized for providing innovative and proactive solutions for our communities through open and accessible government.”

“The ADA offers assistance in helping dentists with continuing education, credentialing services, and other important areas. One such area of importance is the voice it has in Washington. It offers resources to the dentist such as brochures and white papers. Members receive help with their own career growth and can push change on a state, local, and national level.”

These are all quotes from the ADA website.

I believe this could become a major source of problems for the ADA. Just saying the investment is only for financial gain doesn’t mean it still won’t be viewed as an endorsement. If the ADA is now investing in growth areas of the dental industry directly, what if the organization decides to invest in a large group practice?

Whether investing in a DSO, or companies that make and sell products and services to members and other dentists, the ADA must consider if the size the economic investment opportunities—as the ADA describes them—sufficient to overcome the negative impact of the appearance of favoring one product and producer compared to competition? This is a question that will severely impact the dental profession.

To review the mission statement and value offered by the ADA to its members, their responsibility is to assist and provide education and guidance. They are supposed to be fiscally responsible as well, but being so does not mean they should invest only in conservative, low-risk options such as government bonds. But even so, there are numerous investment opportunities on the marketplace where the ADA can look to make investments for financial gain that do not also include the appearance of an endorsement.

This investment decision raises a lot of questions, but the biggest is what comes next for the ADA Innovation Advisory Committee which is responsible for these financial decisions. There was surely a lot of thoughtful discussion about the investment prior to the ADA using its funds to directly invest in these companies. I’d like to think this included some voices of opposition to the decision. It would be interesting to see some of the notes of the discussions and to be able to understand what factors were weighed by this committee. I am curious to hear more reaction from the ADA as they see the response to their investments.

With financial stability the goal, I’m sure many ADA members would be happy if the ADA’s investment arm was more conservative in the types of investments it makes. This recent pair of investments may turn out to be a terrific idea with substantial long-term returns. It also might not go well, and depending on competition and the marketplace, the value of this type of investment can experience significant fluctuations in its market price. There is no doubt this investment decision carries more risk than many other opportunities available to the ADA

With this current round of investment now in place, the ADA must tread carefully in order to avoid creating any confusion between an investment and an endorsement. If competitors to the companies that are now financially connected to the ADA begin to raise questions, how will the ADA respond?

For now, this move raises more questions than answers. It will certainly be interesting to see what investments and challenges lie ahead for the ADA and its members, and how this philosophy of investment is received by the industry.

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