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Issues take center stage at ADA Dentist and Student Lobby Day

Opioids epidemic, student debt among topics for discussion

April 09, 2018

By Jennifer Garvin and Michelle Manchir

Impact: ADA President Joseph P. Crowley thanks ADA dentists and American Student Dental Association members for coming to the organizations' joint Lobby Day. ASDA/Caught in the Moment Photography
Washington — In a room full of passionate advocates ranging from dental student to veteran practitioner and Democrat to Republican and somewhere in between, ADA President Joseph P. Crowley summed up it up this way:

"Today, we are all part of the Tooth Party," he said.

The ADA Dentist and Student Lobby Day kicked off April 8 in the nation's capital. The three-day annual advocacy event hosted more than 1,000 dentists, dental students, state association staff and other dental leaders who gathered to speak on issues important to the profession and patients.

This was the second year in a row the ADA and the American Student Dental Association joined forces. The event was expected to rank as the one of the largest and most successful advocacy events for any health care association in 2018, organizers said.

Dr. Crowley thanked dentists and students for taking time off from their practices and coursework to come to Washington, D.C.

"The work we do at this event each year impacts the work that you do year-round at home," he said. "It impacts over 20,000 dental students and over 200,000 dentists, and hundreds of millions of patients. It impacts all of us."

Dr. Crowley also discussed dentists' role in preventing opioid misuse — an issue he called "priority No. 1" in the wake of the ADA's new interim policy on opioids that supports prescription limits and mandatory continuing education for dentists.

Group photo of ASDA attendees
Capital event: ASDA President Roopali Kulkarni, third from right, huddles with attendees during Lobby Day. Ms. Kulkarni encouraged her fellow dental students to speak out on behalf of ASDA and dental students everywhere. ASDA/Caught in the Moment Photography
"This is an issue that hits close to home," he said. "Many members of our dental community are among those who have had family members or friends succumb to addiction caused by opioids."

Dr. Crowley singled out two dentists — Drs. Omar Abubaker and Sharon Parsons — who have shared stories about deaths of loved ones related to opioid abuse. Drs. Abubaker and Parsons each lost sons to overdoses. While noting that the percentage of opioids prescribed by dentists has decreased over the years, he said, "we must continue to do our duty and do all we can to prevent opioids from harming our patients and our families."

Dr. Parsons, who was in the audience, commended the Association for passing the interim policy on opioids, and urged her fellow dentists to embrace the opportunity to learn more about the perils of addiction.

"I'd spend hundreds of hours taking CE to get my son back," said Dr. Parsons.

ASDA President Roopali Kulkarni encouraged her members to speak out on behalf of ASDA and dental students everywhere.  

"It is such an important time for us to be in Washington," said Ms. Kulkarni, a third-year student at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. "The issues facing students, practitioners and patients are serious."

Group photo at Lobby Day
Role play: Dental Student Kyle Lantz, second from left, talks about student debt during a mock Congressional office visit on Monday. From left are Dr. Mark Desrosiers, Mr. Lantz, Dr. Jeannie Beauchamp and Dr. Emily Mattingly.
She also talked about debt, noting the average dental student graduates with $287,000 in debt.  

"Things need to change," she said. "We need to use our united voice to lobby for common sense solutions that benefit the communities we serve."

Indeed, working together, well, works. Past lobbying conferences have led to the House passing the Action for Dental Health Act and the Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act, which will now be taken up in the Senate.

Other issues being lobbied include higher education and student loan debt, and the Dental and Optometric Care Access Act or "DOC Access Act."

The issues panel featured Dr. Craig Armstrong, vice chair, ADA Council on Government Affairs; council members Drs. Deborah Bishop and Ariane Terlet; Jonathan Vogel, chair of the ASDA Council on Advocacy; and ADA staff lobbyists. Mike Graham, ADA senior vice president of government and public affairs, moderated.

Student loan debt was on the minds of many of the dental students at Lobby Day, who wondered how their loans could affect their futures.

Karen Lee, a second-year dental student from New York at Stony Brook School of Dental Medicine, described Lobby Day as eye-opening.

Photo of Dr. Feldman
Issues review: Dr. Steven Feldman of Rockville, Maryland, addresses a panel at Lobby Day.
"This opens our eyes to a whole other side of dentistry that goes beyond the clinic," she said. "It's also about talking to legislators about issues that affect us and our patients."

Mr. Vogel, a student at The University of Texas School of Dentistry Health Science Center at Houston School of Dentistry, said he appreciates the "passion" for the profession and for patients he sees among participants at Lobby Day.

"Whether you know the issues or not, people are making decisions about how we practice," he said. "Getting to come here and learn about these issues and taking that information back home really makes me more aware and makes me do more research on other issues just to know what's going on."

Devin Allison, a student at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry, shared a tip: "Invite your [legislator] to visit your dental school during their recess."

Photo of Illinois State Dental Society members
Working together: Members of the Illinois State Dental Society are all smiles during Lobby Day. Photo courtesy of the Illinois State Dental Society
Attendees prepared for their April 10 meetings on Capitol Hill by watching the role-playing exercise, "How to Meet with Your Member of Congress." The event was facilitated by Dr. Charles McGinty, a former ADPAC chair. Missouri dentist Dr. Emily Mattingly, a New Dentist Committee member; CGA members Drs. Jeannie Beauchamp and Mark Desrosiers; and Kyle Lantz, a dental school student at the University of Colorado and ASDA member, also took part in the skit.

During his talk on the 2018 midterm elections, Nathan Gonzalez, editor and publisher of Inside Elections, used the word "opportunity" to drive his points home.

Republicans, who control the House and Senate under a Republican president, have the "opportunity to get things done," but "Democrats have history on their side," noting in 18 of the last 20 midterm elections, the president's party has lost seats in both the House and Senate.

The conference's featured speakers were Alex Castellanos and Bill Press, who discussed issues and events surrounding policy and politics representing conservative and liberal viewpoints.

"It's great to see so many of you and it's great to see so many students," said Mr. Press, who is host of the nationally-syndicated radio show, The Bill Press Show and a political commentator on CNN.

Photo of Dr. Cole with ASDA co-vice presidents
On the Hill: Alexandra Howell, American Student Dental Association co-vice president; Dr. Jeffrey M. Cole, ADA president-elect; and Jeffrey Kerst, American Student Dental Association co-vice president, participated in meetings with legislators on April 10 during ADA Dentist and Student Lobby Day.
Mr. Press also focused on the upcoming midterm elections. "The American people get to decide this November if it's a thumbs up or thumbs down on the Trump presidency," he said.

"So much to correct in such little time," countered Mr. Castellanos, a Republican strategist who served as a communications consultant on seven presidential campaigns, a contributor to ABC News and cofounder of Purple Strategies.

"You've come to Washington at kind of a tumultuous moment," he said, "But be glad you did. This is how you make a difference and not enough folks [realize] turbulent times are the key moments to make your voice heard or else [legislators] will listen to other folks who don't necessarily have your interest or even a larger interest at heart."