As part of its annual Advocacy Week, Oral Health America (OHA) sent representatives to Washington, DC, earlier this month to meet with members of Congress and recognize leaders who have worked toward oral health equity in the public sphere. The trip was part of OHA’s annual Fall for Smiles campaign, which strives to educate Americans about the importance of maintaining a healthy mouth.
This year’s theme, “Our Future, Our Families: Achieving Oral Health Equity,” sought to confront oral health disparities by bringing attention to the differences between having equal access to oral healthcare versus having equitable opportunity to achieve good oral health outcomes across the lifespan.
Members of the OHA board and staff as well as oral health advocates visited local legislators, providing educational information to their staffs and asking them to support OHA’s national oral health agenda. OHA’s 2017 legislative priorities include the Children’s Health Insurance Plan (CHIP), the RAISE Family Caregivers Act, and implementing oral health screenings as part of the Older Americans Reauthorization Act of 2016.
At the Capitol Hill Event and Reception, OHA honored Congressman John Lewis of Georgia with the 2017 Marvin Goldstein Outstanding Public Service Award, which celebrates leadership in improving public health. OHA called Lewis a pioneer in shaping the nation, spending his career seeking solutions to eliminate disparities and create and equitable playing field for the nation’s families.
“Congressman John Lewis has been the face of civil rights and is to be commended for his commitment,” explained Beth Truett, president and CEO of OHA. “The organization is honored to present the Marvin Goldstein Outstanding Public Service Award to Congressman Lewis, one of today’s most iconic figures in the fight for social equity.”
OHA also recognized Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio as the Legislative Honoree, recognizing leadership in supporting critical healthcare legislation. OHA called Brown a champion for policies that improve the health of all children such as CHIP. During the ceremony, Brown said that oral health has always been underappreciated in public health.
“Senator Brown has been a champion for middle class families for years, committed to social and economic justice,” said Truett. “Honoring him as the 2017 Legislative Honoree allows us to thank him for his dedication to CHIP and the children of our nation.”
Camara Jones, MD, MPH, PhD, was the keynote speaker at the event. A past president of the American Public Health Association, Jones focuses on the impact of racism on the health and well-being of the nation. She seeks to broaden the healthcare debate to include universal access to high-quality healthcare and bring attention to the social determinants of health, including poverty, and the social determinants of equity, including racism.
“In all the noise around the healthcare debate today, it’s easy to forget that what is most important is providing better health for all of us, and that starts with oral health,” said Eric Shirley, vice president and general manager of Midmark, which sponsored the reception.