Why advocacy matters

Stephanie Hoyos, D.D.S., fights for the future of dentistry

Activism in action: Stephanie Hoyos, D.D.S. (second from left), attends Virginia Lobby Day. She is joined by Brett Siegel, D.D.S. (from left); Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Va.; Emily Rosenberg, D.D.S.; Vishal Gohel, D.M.D.; and dental student Mark Weil. Photo courtesy of Dr. Hoyos.

Stephanie Hoyos, D.D.S., has learned through personal experience that taking a stand for what one believes in is the best way to effect change.

For Dr. Hoyos, who recently opened her own dental practice, this has quickly become a passion. Because of this devotion to her field, she strives to fight for dental advocacy issues as she wades deeper into her career as a new dentist.

While building her dental practice from scratch, Dr. Hoyos has experienced the difficulties that accompany launching a business — such as functioning as her own marketing, human resources and insurance teams.

Through attending Virginia Lobby Day in January, Dr. Hoyos discovered the importance of telling her personal story to lawmakers. This is a highly effective way to emphasize the humanity within the issues, she said.

“If we’re not there to tell our stories, then someone is going to tell a different story,” Dr. Hoyos said.

Some issues Dr. Hoyos supports include helping dental practitioners access mental health care without fear of repercussions related to licensure, allocating finances for renovating schools, mitigating the dental workforce shortage, and advancing the dental and dental hygienist compact, which is an agreement between states that allows license portability for dental professionals.

Dr. Hoyos worked as a dental hygienist for many years before attending dental school and knows firsthand the “rigorous training” dental hygienists undergo. She’s also acutely aware of the dire need for hygienists in the workforce.

“Businesses are suffering; they’re getting severely affected because we don’t have enough dental hygienists,” she said. “I do think that there is a good place for dental hygienists in the dental office to provide the best prophylaxis for patients. At the end of the day, patients might suffer more because they don’t have access to the skilled workforce that we need. So that’s been a battle we’ve been trying to deal with. Through a compact, it would actually open doors; we might have more of an influx of dental hygienists coming from other states.”

As a child, Dr. Hoyos traveled back and forth between the states and her home country of Colombia for many years. She eventually emigrated from Colombia to the U.S. when she was 15 years old, after her mother decided the country was too unstable for her children to grow up there.

Dr. Hoyos said she was initially “skeptical” of politics because she felt as though her voice didn’t matter in Colombia. Coming to the U.S., however, ignited her passion for advocacy.

“For me, coming from a country where it’s so difficult to ever get a hold of your legislator or congressman or woman, there was just no way we ever had access to anyone in power really, because politics are different in other countries. I think the beauty of this country is that as a citizen, you have access to talking to these people,” she said.

Dr. Hoyos experienced this directly at Virginia Lobby Day. She said she felt truly heard by officials when sharing personal anecdotes and added legislators often bring these compelling stories to the floor when advocating for new legislation. Lobby Day was so impactful that she signed up for the ADA Dentist and Student Lobby Day immediately afterwards. This year’s event, which will take place April 7-9, gives attendees the opportunity to learn from political analysts and experts about issues and policies affecting the nation’s oral health.

“It was one of the best, best things I’ve ever done so far,” Dr. Hoyos said. “It was really amazing to see the amount of attention and the amount of interest we were getting from legislators.”

But the effort doesn’t stop there. As a new dentist and business owner, Dr. Hoyos said even though there are challenges with taking time off work, doing so is worth it, in order to advocate for the future of dentistry.

For new dentists interested in getting involved in advocacy, she recommended donating time to dental society meetings and dental-related events because their “presence does make a difference.”

“Advocacy is the only way that we can protect everything we’ve built,” Dr. Hoyos said. “All of our livelihood goes into our career and our business to try to support our family and do well by our community. These laws affect us directly, so showing face is extremely important.”

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