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Capitol Hill event honors oral health advocates

Capitol Hill event honors oral health advocates

Washington—The first recognized American Indian dentist, a member of Congress and a U.S. Senator were honored for oral health advocacy Sept. 29 at a Capitol Hill event hosted by Oral Health America and Oral Healthcare Can’t Wait, an initiative of the Dental Trade Alliance, and sponsored by DentaQuest.

The “calling oral health communities to action” event and reception in the Rayburn House Office Building attracted more than 100 dental association, education and trade organization, public interest and child and family advocacy representatives in recognition of the 10th anniversary of Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General.

Oral Health America’s Board of Directors presented the Marvin Goldstein Outstanding Volunteer Award to Dr. George Blue-Spruce, Jr. “for his spirit and dedicated volunteer leadership in improving the oral health of the American Indian people and for inspiring American Indians to enter and become leaders of the dental and allied health professions. His leadership as the first recognized American Indian dentist, the first American Indian to hold the position of Assistant U.S. Surgeon General and his founding of the Society of American Indian Dentists signifies how one individual can make a lasting difference.”

Dr. Goldstein’s daughter asked that Oral Health America “annually select an individual who exemplified leadership in serving the oral health needs of vulnerable people through outstanding volunteer and professional contributions,” said Dr. Frank Catalanotto, OHA board member. “OHA believes that at this juncture in our organizational history and in that of the nation, this award speaks volumes about our collective community consciousness and the tremendous contribution that Dr. Blue-Spruce has made in changing the lives of American Indian people.”

Dr. Blue-Spruce, Jr., is assistant dean for American Indian affairs at the Arizona School of Dentistry & Oral Health. OHA will place a brick in Dr. Blue-Spruce’s honor in the courtyard of the National Museum of Dentistry in Baltimore, Md.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) opened the event with an appeal to oral health advocacy and in memory of the 12-year-old Maryland boy who died Feb. 25, 2007 of a brain infection caused by tooth decay. “Every day when I brush my teeth I think about Deamonte Driver [and] dental care in poor communities. We as a country can do better and we must do better. We know how important dental care is and you have to bring that message to the 435 [House members].”

Rep. Cummings, whose congressional district includes Baltimore city, was introduced as “a passionate supporter of oral health [who] has lent his voice and office to ensuring that oral health is a health priority in Maryland and in our nation. His leadership has resulted in expanded dental coverage for children in the Children’s Health Insurance Program and Medicaid,” said Beth Truett, OHA president and chief executive officer.

Oral Health America and the Dental Trade Alliance gave special recognition to Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) “for his unwavering support of oral health initiatives at the state and national levels to improve access to care, training, service delivery and data based programming especially for children and our most vulnerable citizens.

“Sen. Bingaman has demonstrated an intense interest in children’s oral health issues, access to care for Native American individuals and access to prevention and treatment services for all,” said George Rhodes, OHA chairman.

“The senator and his staff worked hard over the years to address these issues and to increase reimbursement from Medicaid for dental services,” DTA Chair Al King added. “His accomplishments provide a list of deliverables that oral health supporters cite as best practices for advancing oral health parity.” He cited expansion of Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program dental services and dental residency, National Health Service Corps and community health center funding among Sen. Bingaman’s accomplishments.

Frederick Isasi, Sen. Bingaman’s senior legislative counsel for health care, thanked the “advocates and experts in this room [who] helped write oral health provisions” in the health care reform law, including a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention oral health education campaign about to launch nationally with a “clean pacifiers” message for moms. “That was a fight,” he said of health care reform. “And it’s not over. The next step is we need to make sure that the authorizations we got in the health reform law are funded.”

Dr. William Bailey, recently named chief dental officer of the U.S. Public Health Service, cited “advancements in oral health such as expanding the safety net” since issuance in the year 2000 of the first surgeon general’s report focusing specifically on oral health. “But we are far from meeting our goals in oral health. Disparities remain. Dental statistics point to unmet treatment needs and preventive interventions are still underutilized.”

The Department of Health and Human Services revitalized an inter-agency oral health activity this spring, and, said Dr. Bailey, “in the next few months you will see outreach related to this activity.

Gary Price, DTA chief executive officer, discussed findings from a public opinion survey of children and adults commissioned by Oral Health America and sponsored by DTA’s Oral Healthcare Can’t Wait and Plackers. “Oral health literacy should be a goal for everyone in this room, a mission,” he said. “It is important to convince the public, and home-based education is wonderful, but we have to look to our schools as well.”