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Dentists flood Capitol Hill

Opioid misuse, student loan debt among issues brought to legislators on ADA Dentist and Student Lobby Day

April 18, 2018

By Michelle Manchir

Group photo of Missouri attendees attending meeting
Crucial meetings: Dental professionals and dental students attended hundreds of meetings on Capitol Hill with legislators and their staffs on April 10 as part of ADA Dentist and Study Lobby Day to advocate for oral health-related issues. Here, from left, Mark Betancourt, a dental student at A.T. Still University; Dr. Stuart Dexter; Lisa Bosch, dental student at A.T. Still University; Dr. Emily Mattingly; dental student Jessica Sliger; Dr. Lynne Barbour (hidden); and Dr. Cheryl Haley, meet with a staffer from the office of Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo.
Washington — In a conference room that used to be President Harry S. Truman's office on Capitol Hill, seven dentists and two dental students from Missouri filled a meeting table.

Sitting in what's now the office of Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the dentists and students were among more than 1,100 to participate in ADA Dentist and Student Lobby Day in April, which culminated in hundreds of meetings on Capitol Hill between dentists and legislators.

Dr. Elwood Rice of rural Mexico, Missouri, kicked the gathering off with perhaps this year's most pressing oral-health related issue: responding to the opioid epidemic.

Dr. Rice shared details about the ADA's interim policy that supports mandatory continuing education for opioid prescribers; a limit to the dose and duration of initial opioid prescriptions for acute pain; and support for state prescription drug monitoring programs.

Group photo of Missouri attendees outside of the D.C. office
Missouri represents: Drs. Ted Rechtin, Elwood Rice, Jon Copeland, Lynne Barbour, Stuart Dexter, Bob Butler and Charles McGinty, all of Missouri, pose outside of the D.C. Office of Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., during ADA Dentist and Student Lobby Day in April.
He shared that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2016 opioids killed more than 42,000 people, and 40 percent of those deaths involved a prescription pain reliever.

A dentist for 35 years and a veteran participant of Lobby Day, Dr. Rice also knew it was valuable to share his personal insight on the matter. He told the staffer he has seldom prescribed opioids to his patients over the last five, opting instead to suggest a combination of extra strength Tylenol and Advil for pain relief.

"I do a lot of root canals and oral surgery and I tell the patient that, in most cases, the over-the-counter combination works as well, if not better, than the narcotics," he said.

Missouri is notable when it comes to opioid misuse, because it is the only state without any kind of operational drug-monitoring program to track what and how many narcotics health care providers prescribe to patients.

Group photo of Florida attendees by Rep. Gaetz's Capitol Hill office
Sunshine state in Washington: University of Florida dental student Will Baldock; Joe Anne Hart, Florida Dental Association chief legislative officer; University of Florida dental students Emily Waikem and Aria Sharma; Matthew Gorsuch, military fellow for Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.; Jerilyn Bird; Dr. Jerry Bird; and RJ Gonzalez, University of Florida dental student; stop for a photo outside of Rep. Gaetz's Capitol Hill office in April during ADA Dentist and Student Lobby Day.
In the meeting, which lasted almost a half hour, Dr. Rice asked Sen. Blunt's office to work with the ADA to address the national public health crisis. It felt like Sen. Blunt's staffer, who specialized in health care issues, "was right on board with us," he said. "She seemed very appreciative of what we were trying to accomplish."

Dr. Rice knew how to prepare for the meeting — come up with a personal story to share, memorize the facts, trade business cards — because it was his 22nd time attending Lobby Day.

But there were also first-timers on the Hill in April for ADA Dentist and Student Lobby Day. This was the second year the American Student Dental Association collaborated with the ADA for Lobby Day.

To prepare the rookies, the ADA and ASDA helped arrange phone calls for each state delegation to nail down issues and get organized. And, the day before the Capitol Hill meetings, Lobby Day attendees participated in sessions about how to effectively meet with members of congress. They also gathered in a strategy lunch with their state delegations.

These sessions helped Jessica Sliger, a fourth-year dental student at University of Missouri – Kansas City, who was among the first-time participants and shared her perspective in meetings with staff from the offices of Sen. Blunt, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., and others.

Group photo of New Mexico attendees
New Mexico smiles: Colorado School of Dental Medicine student Craig Testerman; Dr. Jennifer Thompson; Dr. Michael Law; Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M.; Michael Moxey, New Mexico Dental Association director of communications and advocacy; Dr. Joe Valles, New Mexico Dental Association president; and Dr. Tom Schripsema, New Mexico Dental Association executive director, pose for a photo on Capitol Hill.
"I'm really impressed by all the dentists that are here and by the organization of the ADA and how they prepared us to talk about our standpoints," she said. "I felt very well-prepared as a first-time participant, and I felt supported. It's been nothing but a wonderful experience."

Still, April's visit to Washington wasn't Ms. Sliger's first.

A high school teacher for seven years before going to dental school, Ms. Sliger had previously visited Washington to lobby on behalf of education. She registered for ADA Dentist and Student Lobby Day "not knowing one person," she said, but found that the Missouri delegation "was so welcoming, inviting me to sit with them during breaks, introducing me to people from other states and out to dinner."

For many of the students and new dentists, combatting student loan debt was top of mind during their legislative meetings. In 2016, the average indebted dental student graduated with $287,331 of debt.

Group photo of Maine attendees in front of Capitol Hill
On the Hill: Maine Dental Association Council on Government Relations Chairwoman Dr. Kristie Lake Harriman; University of New England student Kailee Williams; University of New England student Amber-Lise Meyers; University of New England student Brittney Bell; and Dr. Jonathan Shenkin, ADA Long-Term Delegate for the Maine Dental Association stop for a photo on Capitol Hill during ADA Dentist and Student Lobby Day in April. Photo by Angela Westhoff
That was the case for Lisa Bosch, a third-year dental student at A.T. Still University School of Dentistry and Oral Health. She told a staffer in Rep. Graves' office that she knows many fellow students who owe up to $5,000 in loan repayments each month. She advocated for more loan repayment programs, refinancing opportunities and lower interest rates on loans.

Other issues the dental delegations advocated for during their meetings included a repeal of the McCarran-Ferguson Act's antitrust exemption; support in the Senate for the ADA's Action for Dental Health Act; and support for H.R. 1601, the Dental and Optometric Care Access Act, which prohibits non-covered services provisions in dental and vision plans.

For many involved, visiting Washington to share their perspective is an essential part of advocating for the nation's oral health.

"I want to see a bright future for all of us in dentistry," Dr. Jon Copeland of Wildwood, Missouri, told the ADA News seconds after his meeting with Sen. Blunt's staff. "If you're not making your voice heard at some level, whether state, local or national, you're missing out."

Next year's Lobby Day is scheduled for March 24-26, 2019. For more information visit