Dentist. Leader. Mother. Wife. Teacher. Ironwoman. Author. Olympic competitor. Cancer survivor.
The titles Linda Edgar, D.D.S., holds seem endless. In the season of life where many are winding down, Dr. Edgar is just getting started in many ways. Or at the very least, she’s never stopped and has no plans to.
Some of the chapters in Dr. Edgar’s book of life had forced endings. Like when she had two miscarriages in nine months. Or when physical injuries forced her to stop running.
But Dr. Edgar has changed some chapters on her own and written her own new beginnings. She stopped teaching high school chemistry so she could attend dental school. She forged her own path of leadership within organized dentistry.
And now, she’ll take office as the 160th president of the ADA during the Oct. 10 House of Delegates meeting in Orlando, Florida.
Dr. Edgar was born in San Diego, where her father was a Coast Guard rescue pilot. The family followed dad’s career, meaning Dr. Edgar lived nine places before she graduated from high school.
As an undergraduate at the University of Washington, her goal was to attend medical school and be an OB-GYN. Dr. Edgar met her husband, Bryan Edgar, D.D.S., as a sophomore, and he aspired to be a dentist. They made a deal: She’d put him through dental school if he put her through medical school when he was done.
She graduated with a master’s degree in education and started teaching high school chemistry. Two years into their marriage, Dr. Edgar had two ruptured tubal pregnancies within nine months. The experience was traumatic enough to deter her from attending medical school, so she kept teaching.
Serendipitously enough, three months after her last miscarriage, a woman walked into her husband’s residency hospital and wanted to give up the baby she was due to have in a few days. The Edgars took it as a sign and decided to become instant parents to David, who is now a 6-foot-8-inch captain for Alaskan Airlines.
Dr. Edgar continued to teach and started a running program at her school. She coached track and cross country and over the next 10 years ran 45 marathons (with a best time of 2 hours and 43 minutes) and two Ironman races. She even qualified and ran in the first women’s Olympic Marathon Trials.
“That experience taught me anything was possible,” Dr. Edgar said. “It removed the words ‘can’t’ and ‘impossible’ from my vocabulary.”
She’s had every running injury you can think of, has no meniscus in her right knee but is proud to say she still has her original knees and hips. After crashing her bike in an Ironman competition, her husband went to the University of Washington Dental School and got an application.
“You should apply to dental school, you would be good at this,” Bryan Edgar said to his then-37-year-old wife. “It would be safer.”
As she entered the University of Washington School of Dentistry in 1988, Dr. Edgar described herself as an “unusual student.” Her son was 10 years old at the time, and she commuted one to two hours each way depending on traffic.
“I felt very alone, to be honest, because I was older and had a child,” said Dr. Edgar, who pointed out she was one of only 11 women in a class of 54.
“Right now, well-being is so important to the younger cohort, and I lived all that. I lived feeling like I didn’t belong to the group,” she said. “I nearly quit my first year. I was a very good teacher. I was head of my chemistry department. You get into dental school, and I felt like a kindergartner. I didn’t know how to do anything. It was hard to start over.”
But her husband stepped in.
“My husband said, ‘There will be patients who will miss out if you do not continue.’ I took that to heart and stuck with it,” Dr. Edgar said.
She graduated in 1992 and went into practice in Federal Way, Washington, with Bryan, who had been a dentist for 17 years at that point.
Path to the presidency
Dr. Edgar got involved with organized dentistry through the Washington Academy of General Dentistry, rising through the ranks to ultimately be its president in 1998. She served two terms as national AGD secretary and was the president of the national AGD from 2007-15. At the same time, she was the Seattle King Dental Society president in 2010. She said some people felt it was a conflict of interest to be involved in both types of organizations, but Dr. Edgar felt like it was a collaborative effort.
“I was learning leadership, which really helped me in my practice on a daily basis,” Dr. Edgar said. “It helps you have a community of support that you don’t get if you’re just sitting in your solo practice working every day. You’re not showing your cases to someone else and asking, ‘What would you do if you had this situation?’ It just makes you a better dentist.”
In 2016, she was diagnosed with lip cancer, leading her and Bryan to take friends up on an offer to purchase their practice and have them work back in the practice for several years. She was president of AGD at the time, and working three days a week versus every day was attractive to someone rising in the leadership ranks. It worked out well because when she joined the ADA Board of Trustees in 2018 and ran for president-elect in 2022, she valued the extra time. While running for president-elect, Dr. Edgar took a step back from practicing entirely to focus on her leadership role.
In the limited spare time she did have, Dr. Edgar authored two books — one on the story of adopting her son, “Thank You For Giving Me David,” and the other a collection of leadership stories called “Climb Every Mountain.” She loves to read, make jewelry, spend time at her home in Hawaii and visit with her two granddaughters, who live about an hour away. She and Bryan celebrated their 50th anniversary in June.
“I’ve really learned in this life I’ve lived that just get up each time you fall. Everybody in their life has stuff that happens to them that they have to recover from. With help from others and faith in yourself, get up. Sometimes right around the corner there’s a much better thing that’s going to happen for you.”
Dr. Edgar was interviewed by Editor-in-Chief Kelly Ganski in June.
Q. What are the three biggest issues facing the profession right now? What are the three biggest issues facing the Association right now? Are they the same or different?
A. The three biggest issues facing the profession are insurance reimbursement, student debt and workforce.
The biggest issues facing the Association: connection, collaboration and communication. The ADA, like most associations, is looking for better ways to create meaningful connections, increase effective collaborations and improve messaging that resonates with stakeholders, especially members and prospective members. So, connection, collaboration and communication are key. We are also hoping to create more efficiencies with updated systems like Salesforce and Fonteva and get rid of irrelevant programs. Our goal is to decrease dues, hopefully this year.
1. Decreasing membership. We need to educate and communicate to our early career dentists and dental students why it is important to be a member of organized dentistry and promote and improve the profession they are investing sometimes, in some instances, over $400,000 in.
2. Fractionation of our profession with so many dental groups duplicating the same efforts with often the same issues. We need to bring our state and local dental association partners, the Diversity Summit Presidents Group, and the recognized dental specialty associations together at the table to get answers to problems and work together. We are all dentists. We need to welcome all dentists no matter what practice modality they are in. We are stronger together.
3. Lack of connection and the need for dentists to feel like we “have their backs” and are not alone when they have a tough day.
4. The biggest issue facing our profession is communication about what ADA does to strengthen the profession. Many of our members and nonmembers don’t know about the many things we do to keep the profession strong and help them succeed. We need to tell our story better and emphasize the need to stand together for the strength of our profession. The ADA’s new campaign, Together, We Thrive, highlights the Power of Three — or power of membership at the local, state and national level — in shaping the future of each member’s life and career as well as the future of the dental profession.
Q. Why are you a member of the Association? Why should a nonmember join?
A. I am a member of ADA because it is the only organization big enough to protect the profession and help make a difference at the national/federal level. I believe as a member of the profession and a delegate for 15 years we have made progress helping dentists succeed and helping the underserved get better treatment.
1. The ADA, alongside the state dental societies, are the major force pushing for laws helping dentists and patients deal with third-party payers. The ADA funds several million dollars a year through our State Public Affairs programs and the Fight Insurance Interference Strategic Taskforce. This money is given to our states to help pass bills into law on medical loss ratio, bundling of procedures, assignment of benefits, noncovered services, networking leasing, and virtual credit card processing, to name a few.
2. The ADA spends over $10 million a year on science through the ADA Science and Research Institute to help develop new products and diagnostics and test new equipment.
3. We continually develop new education offerings including webinars, podcasts and in-person meetings to help dentists keep up to date and protect the patients and the profession.
4. Licensure portability through the compact legislation, which will allow dentists and hygienists to practice in multiple states, is being worked on. State laws to authorize the compact have already passed in three states with more on the way.
5. The ADA has helped with expanding Medicaid reimbursement in over 20 states. We are at the table discussing fair reimbursements to improve the Medicaid program and getting more dentists to sign up. We are also working to make Medicaid paperwork more streamlined.
6. The ADA has been at the table negotiating and encouraging legislative support for reductions in student loan interest rates and flexibility on student loan repayment. We negotiated Laurel Road’s interest deduction from 0.25 to 0.3% this year and are looking at more avenues for students and dentists to be helped. Eliminating student loan interest payments while a dentist is in school or residency will save them $30,000 to $40,000 depending on the loan amount.
Q. Do you have priorities for your year as president? Specific goals you are aiming to achieve?
A. 1. Increase membership, with an emphasis on one-on-one connections with members and nonmembers and creating a contest to reward and recognize those members doing this. We need to reach out with a personal touch to members and nonmembers and much better communicate what we do. Every member needs to be involved. We are talking about possibly giving members a discount on ADA national dues if they are a member of another organization to encourage collaboration and strengthen all our dental groups.
2. Increase education to the public about what a difference nutrition and tooth brushing would make through a tested program founded by the Children’s Oral Health Institute called Lessons in a Lunchbox, which will be provided to second- and third graders across the country. Continue the work of ADA President George Shepley’s Task Force on Sugar and educate the public.
3. Increase communication and inform members and nonmembers about all that the ADA does and disseminate information we talk about within our councils out to dentists to help dentists in their practices. Have townhalls to listen to members’ concerns and suggestions and answer their questions. We are continually working to improve the ADA app to help with customized information that you care about.
4. Collaboration and listening sessions with all dental organizations. Collaboration with all dental groups so we can begin to solve issues together and encourage all dental groups to come to our ADA Dentist and Student Lobby Day next year.
5. Create a venue for women dentists to “ask me anything,” with leading women dentists continuing to encourage women to get involved with leadership roles.
6. Mentorship programs and town halls for new dentists to ask questions and have their voices heard and ask questions with panels of new dentist leaders.
7. Develop a better insurance payment system with no maximums and a possible voucher system for those who cannot afford care to increase access.
All these efforts take money and increasing membership and non-dues revenue will help.
Q. The ADA was instrumental in 2022 in helping Massachusetts achieve a historic win with passage of a ballot referendum to establish a medical loss ratio law for dental plans across the state. More and more states are following this blueprint to draft their own laws on this topic. Why is this story an important one to tell members?
A. This win is a good example of the strength of the ADA to get legislation done that will help our members with insurance issues. The ADA donated $5.5 million to the cause and brought in about $7 million along with all the state and individual donations. We came together showing the power of the tripartite to get the job done. United we stand, divided we fall. Now, states have a template to use to advocate for their own medical loss ratio legislation. Through the State Public Affairs Program, the ADA helps fund our states to do this work (close to $2.7 million a year). We must let nonmembers know if they don’t support the ADA, we will not have the money in the future to help advocate for the profession they have invested in. It costs a cup of coffee a day to join the ADA. Without our new dentists joining, the money will not be there to help your future profession.
Q. What should members know about the work of the ADA Science & Research Institute? How does the institute support the ADA’s goal of advancing the health of the public and the success of the profession?
A. We fund over $10 million a year supporting the research and science that ADASRI does.
The ADA is the only dentist member organization in the world with a subsidiary dedicated to conducting research that transforms oral and overall health of individuals and populations. During COVID, ADASRI staff worked tirelessly to develop protocols to keep our patients and dentists safe. They are constantly developing methods to test dental materials, evaluating products for home oral care, establishing an oral cell type atlas and exploring the oral microbiome. Under the auspices of the ADA Council on Scientific Affairs, they publish ACE Panel reports in JADA to understand how techniques, tools and treatment options are really being used in practice. The ADA Seal of Acceptance program evaluates the safety and efficacy of over-the-counter oral hygiene products so that dentists and their teams can make evidence-based recommendations to their patients. Cutting-edge research within ADASRI contributes to dental standard development, insights for dental practice and, at its core, improving the overall health of the public.
Q. Why is advocacy so important to the profession? What do you see as important in this arena? Top priorities? Top accomplishments?
A. Advocacy is one of the main things the ADA does so well in so many areas. Insurance reform legislation is probably the most impactful. The ADA is the only organization that is big enough together with all the state and local dental associations, recognized specialty associations and diverse groups, to help make the needle move on issues. Together we will be strong enough to help our dentists succeed and protect our patients and the profession. Top priorities: workforce issues; student loan debt and decreasing interest rates; increasing Medicaid reimbursements to a level where more dentists will take Medicaid; and insurance reform issues, including noncovered services, network leasing, credit cards, better reimbursement when operating in the hospital and assignment of benefits.
Q. There is an ongoing discussion over whether the federal government should add an adult dental benefit in Medicare for the sickliest patients. Where do you stand on this, and what can the ADA do to promote its view on this?
A. We are at the table with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services discussing certain procedures that should be covered by Medicare and what the reimbursements should be to complete dental care before certain medical procedures need to be done. This will only work if the reimbursements are reasonable; otherwise, dentists will not sign up for the program. For the people who are at 300% of poverty and cannot afford dentistry, we must come up with a better system than Medicare. The Council on Government Affairs and Council on Dental Benefit Programs are discussing the viability of alternate programs instead of the current medical model of Medicare.
Q. What has the ADA done to promote diversity and inclusion within the Association and the dental profession? What can dentists do to promote diversity and inclusion within their own practices and communities?
A. Be intentional about encouraging all people of diversity to get involved. Creating mentorships can help. I hope that by being a woman president, more women will see the opportunity to lead. We have a standing committee, a diversity leadership program and constant education and discussion at the ADA Board level. We also have a strong policy to support diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.
Q. The ADA Health Policy Institute released data in May that showed a higher percentage of dentists affiliating with dental service organizations, even more so among early-career dentists. To what do you attribute this change, and how can the ADA support dentists moving in this direction?
A. Student debt and the need to have a consistent salary, plus the work-life balance found by working with a DSO, may be motivators. Welcoming dentists with DSO practices into our societies is imperative. Reach out and invite all dentists to your meetings and calls regardless of practice modality. We are all dentists, and we need to help our dentists feel like they belong. I want the ADA to be a big organization that feels like a small organization, where everyone feels cared about and important, and where everyone feels like they belong and are listened to and respected.
Q. How can the ADA work effectively with ever-expanding DSOs in a way that is advantageous and ethical for patients, dentists and both groups?
A. This year, President George Shepley, D.D.S., Executive Director Raymond Cohlmia, D.D.S., and I all visited several DSO conferences, including Women in DSO, to learn more about how we can help support each other. We have met with the Association of Dental Support Organizations leadership and discussed ways we can help each other. Our advocacy for insurance legislation helps DSO or multi-practice groups, which is our preferred term because it includes a wider variety of business models. It is important that all dentists maintain the ability to control the treatment plan and do what is best for our patients. We have a DSO task force discussing all aspects of the current and future trends and how we can collaborate to do what is best for the dental profession. There will always be a definite desire for the solo- and multi-doctor practices too, and we need to provide financial education that helps dentists that want to choose private practice.
Q. What have you learned during your career that you would most like to share with new dentists about the future they can expect? What advice do you wish someone had given to you when you started out?
A. Regardless of what kind of practice or teaching career you choose, what is most important for success is that you listen to your patients and genuinely care about them as people first. Call your patients at night and check on them after a procedure. There are times when a patient is not ready to accept your treatment plan. Patients have to trust you first. Realize all your patients have a lot of other places to spend their hard-earned money. Do not overtreat. If you make a mistake or something goes wrong, it is important to tell your patient. Don’t beat yourself up so much if a procedure does not come out perfect. I think after 15 years of teaching and 30 years of clinical dentistry providing almost all the procedures, I realize lifelong learning and the importance of staying connected and learning from other dentists is vital to my continual growth. Listen more and talk less.
Q. How can the ADA connect with dental schools and students to educate them on the value of being an ADA member? What can the ADA do differently to retain dental students as ADA members once they graduate?
A. We must create faculty ambassadors in all our dental schools and invest in practical programs like financials, practice management and career choices. We must collaborate and create opportunities for mentor programs between American Student Dental Association new dentists and veteran dentists who have time. We must be there for our young members when they need us the most and make sure they know we have their backs. My email address is email@example.com, and I welcome anyone who wants to connect.
Q. What theme in your campaign do you believe most resonated with members? How do you expect to address that issue as ADA president?
A. I ran my campaign for president-elect on three pillars of success for any person to be a success.
• Caring connections creates commitment; reach out and connect.
• Collaborate with all dental groups: united we stand, divided we fall.
• Communicate all that we do for our members and our profession to keep it strong.
We must strengthen the tripartite and join together.