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California soon may have a dental director

April 21, 2014

By Kelly Soderlund, ADA News staff

Dr. Stephens
Sacramento, Calif.—California may soon have a state dental director, a position long sought after by the state dental association.

Gov. Jerry Brown's 2014-15 budget includes funding for a state dental director, who must be a licensed dentist and an epidemiologist in the department of public health, to establish a state oral health program. The program will receive $474,000 the first year and include assessing oral health needs in the state, developing and managing a state oral health plan and applying for and managing federal and private grants to support oral health.

"There is money from the federal government for oral health programs that the state of California has consistently left on the table," said Dr. James Stephens, president of the California Dental Association. "A state dental director will be instrumental in actively applying for and securing those funds."

Establishing a dental director was the top priority of the CDA in its 2011 access to care plan, "Phased Strategies for Reducing the Barriers to Dental Care in California," which can be found at cda.org/portals/0/pdfs/access_report.pdf.

"I think from everything we learned when we studied the access to care issue is that states that make this commitment to oral health and hire a state dental director have much improved outcomes over states that do not," Dr. Stephens said.

In the governor's outline for the position, which is modeled after CDA's proposal, the dental director will be charged with developing a burden of disease report, leading the collaborative process to create a state oral health plan and managing the implementation of the plan. The role will also include establishing prevention and oral health literacy projects and working to secure funding for prevention-focused oral health and essential disease prevention services, particularly for children.

The California legislature must approve the 2014-15 budget package by June 15 before it goes into effect July 1. CDA promises to keep its members informed about the hiring and progress of the state dental director through its regular communications and its website cda.org.

"There are nearly 40 million people in California and 8-9 million experience some kind of barrier to oral health care," Dr. Stephens said. "It's got to be better. I believe this will make a significant difference."