Oral Health America Advocates for Oral Health Equity on Capitol Hill

Posted on October 23, 2017

Earlier this month, Oral Heath America (OHA) brought Board Members, Oral Health Advocates and staff to Capitol Hill for their annual Advocacy Day event to meet with members of Congress and recognize leaders who have worked toward oral health equity in the public sphere.

Advocacy Day is a part of OHA’s annual Fall for Smiles campaign, which strives to educate Americans every September and October about the importance of maintaining a healthy mouth and is a component of OHA’s year-long Campaign for Oral Health Equity effort, graciously sponsored by Tom’s of Maine. 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.

The event included visits to local legislators by OHA Board, staff and Oral Health Advocates. Thanks to the generosity of 3M, Oral Health America offered scholarships to 10 of the Advocates. OHA Advocates provided educational information to legislative staffers and asked them to support OHA’s national oral health agenda. Oral Health America’s 2017 Legislative Priorities include CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program), 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, sponsored by Midmark Corporation, Oral Health America honored Congressman John Lewis with the 2017 Marvin Goldstein Outstanding Public Service Award, celebrating individuals whose leadership in improving public health in the U.S. has broken new ground and created a changed environment. Congressman Lewis has been a pioneer in helping shape our nation, spending his career seeking solutions to eliminate disparities and create an equitable playing field for our nation’s families.

OHA also recognized Senator Sherrod Brown (Ohio) as the Legislative Honoree, recognizing leadership in supporting critical healthcare legislation. Senator Brown has been a champion for policies that improve the health of all children such as CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program). Senator Brown stated that oral health has always been underappreciated in the realm of public health.

“Midmark is proud to support the work of Oral Health America and to recognize two of our nation’s leaders who continue to promote the importance of dental health,” said Eric Shirley, Vice President & General Manager of Midmark Corporation. “In all the noise around the healthcare debate lately, it’s easy to forget that what is most important is providing better health for all of us, and that starts with oral health.”

Dr. Camara Jones served as the keynote speaker for the event. A family physician, epidemiologist and Past President of the American Public Health Association, Dr. Jones’ work focuses on the impact of racism on the health and well-being of the nation. She seeks to broaden the national healthcare debate to include both universal access to high quality healthcare, and also bring attention to the social determinants of health (including poverty) and the social determinants of equity (including racism). 

In addition to the legislative visits and the Capitol Hill Event, OHA hosted a Legislative Luncheon sponsored by Oral Healthcare Can’t Wait (an initiative of Dental Trade Alliance) in the Capitol Visitors Center, which featured a panel discussing "Oral Health is Health”. Moderated by Dr. Ivan Lugo (Executive Director, Hispanic Dental Association), Dr. Hal Slavkin (Professor and Dean Emeritus at the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry, University of Southern California), Marko Vujicic, PhD (ADA Chief Economist and Vice President, Health Policy Institute), and Mary Otto (author of "Teeth") discussed different aspects of oral health, including adding a dental benefit in Medicare and how science informs oral health care.

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