Oral Health America’s (OHA’s) board members, oral health advocates, and staff visited Capitol Hill earlier this month to meet with members of Congress and recognize leaders who have worked toward oral health equity in the public sphere as part of the organization’s annual Advocacy Week.
Advocacy Week is part of OHA’s annual Fall for Smiles campaign, which is designed to educate Americans about the importance of maintaining a healthy mouth as part of the year-long Campaign for Oral Health Equity. This year’s theme, Open Your Mouth: Oral Health is Health, seeks to empower health advocates to raise awareness of the importance of oral health as a key factor of overall health and wellness.
Supported by 3M, GSK, the Dental Trade Alliance, and Midmark, OHA offered scholarships to 20 oral health advocates. Also, 45 participants asked legislators and their staff to support OHA’s national oral health agenda by providing educational information and sharing personal stories and experiences. In total, the oral health advocates reached 84 congressional offices.
The oral health advocates emphasized the importance for oral health for older Americans, citing OHA’s A State of Decay, Volume IV, a biannual state-by-state report that analyzes the oral health of older Americans across the United States. They also spoke on behalf of OHA’s 2018 policy priorities, which include:
- Funding for Health Resources and Services Administration Oral Health Training Programs
- Filling the open Chief Dental Officer position at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
- The RAISE Family Caregivers Act
- Support for the Dental Health Act of 2018
During the Capitol Hill Reception, OHA honored Dr. Caswell Evans with the 2018 Marvin Goldstein Outstanding Public Service Award for his record in public health, including his directorship of the first Surgeon General’s report on oral health and leadership in establishing service learning externships at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry.
OHA also recognized Representative Mike Simpson (R-ID) as the Legislative Honoree for his work in dentistry and in leading the House passage of the Action for Dental Health Act of 2018 to bolster utilization of existing resources to improve early diagnosis, intervention, and prevention treatments. His senior legislative assistant, James Neill, accepted on his behalf.
“Twenty years after the first Surgeon General’s Report on Oral Health, the effort to examine an oral health benefit in Medicare is embraced not only by many corners of the oral health community, but by health policy groups, aging organizations, and increasingly by legislators,” said Beth Truett, OHA president and CEO.
“There is still work to be done to elevate this issue, but the recent release of our white paper, An Oral Health Benefit in Medicare Part B: It’s Time to Include Oral Health in Health Care, is an important step in the collaborative effort to open our mouths and address oral health’s impact on overall health,” Truett said.
The week further included a Twitter chat among national advocacy organizations like the Children’s Dental Health Project and Families USA as well as an Instagram takeover where past OHA Fellows and interns answered the question, “How do you advocate for oral health equity?” The week concluded with a recap by oral health advocate and OHA associate board member Jennifer Hasch.