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Dentists and students advocate for key oral health issues in Washington

April 16, 2019

By Jennifer Garvin

Photo of Dr. Cole speaking at Lobby Day
Welcome: ADA President Jeffrey M. Cole welcomes dentists and students to the third annual ADA Dentist Student Lobby Day.
Washington — Health insurance reform. Alleviating student debt. Improving smiles for patients suffering from congenital anomalies.

The issues were big but the passion was even bigger at the ADA Dentist and Student Lobby Day. More than 1,100 dentists and dental students gathered for the event, which was jointly hosted by the ADA and American Student Dental Association.

ADA President Jeffrey M. Cole praised the attendees for taking time out of their schedules to advocate on behalf of dentistry.

"Each year, the work that you do affects over 24,000 dental students and affects over 200,000 of our dentist colleagues," said Dr. Cole in opening remarks. "Most impressively, it affects hundreds of millions of patients. That's why it's so important and critical that you have all gathered here and come to Washington."

Photo of students from Oregon Health and Science University
Tooth party: Students from Oregon Health and Science University have fun during a networking break. From left are Christina Pearson, Brad Thomson, Rachel Wittenberg, Michelle Bloemers, Alisha Gaffney, Elizabeth Foss and Jonathan Faris.
This is the third year the ADA and the American Student Dental Association have collaborated on Lobby Day, which kicked off April 14 and wrapped up April 16. The three-day event was expected to be one of the biggest for any health care association in 2019, organizers said.

"ASDA's mission is to promote the rights, interests and welfare of dental students and advocacy is one of the most significant ways we fulfill that mission," said ASDA President Craig McKenzie, a second-year student at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. "That is why it is so powerful to see all of you here today. You understand the importance of showing up and sharing your story."

During the first of five April 15 panels, ADA staff and volunteers summarized the legislation attendees would be presenting during their Congressional visits. The three issues were: McCarran-Ferguson reform, which would empower the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission to enforce the full range of federal antitrust laws against health insurance companies; higher education and student loan debt; and the Ensuring Lasting Smiles Act, which would ensure that children suffering from congenital anomalies and birth defects would receive the treatments they need. The panel featured Dr. Phillip Fijal, vice chair, ADA Council on Government Affairs, council member Dr. David White; dental student Anisha Pandya and was moderated by Mike Graham, ADA senior vice president of government and public affairs.

Photo of Dr. Treat, Ms. Yap and Dr. McGinty
Role players: Dr. Tim Treat, left, student Lauren Yap and Dr. Charles McGinty demonstrate how to visit a Congressional office.
Many participants also shared stories that made the legislation feel personal.

"My student loans take up 30-40 percent of my [after]-tax income," said new dentist Jonathan Vogel, a 2018 graduate. "It impacts not just my practice decisions but every decision I make in life, whether that's looking at buying a house, buying a car or starting a family."

"When you personalize it like that, you make it real," Mr. Graham said. "You're going to be meeting with staff that either have debt now or had it so they can empathize with you."

Dental faculties and senior practitioners also spoke of feeling the strain.

Photo of Rear Admiral Tim Ricks
Oral-systemic connection: Rear Adm. Tim Ricks, chief dental officer of the U.S. Public Health Service, talks about advances in dentistry.
"I've been practicing 38 years and I'm tired," said Dr. Bill Lee of Lexington, Kentucky. "I'm ready to give my practice up and bring someone else in to help my patients."

Finding a dentist who can afford to buy his practice, however, has proven difficult, given the $287,000 average debt many new graduates carry.

"This doesn't only affect students, it affects the other side of the equation as well," Dr. Lee said.

Photo of Former Senator Kelly Ayotte and Ms. Doyle
Featured speakers: Former Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and democratic operative Patti Solis Doyle talk policy and politics during the 2019 Lobby Day.
The ELSA issue also hit home.

"This issue is important to me because I was born with a complete bilateral cleft lip and palate," said Dr. Mark Horner of Maryland.

Dr. Horner said he considered himself lucky because growing up his father was a federal employee, which meant most of his treatment was covered.

"But I met people when I was a child" who weren't as fortunate, he said.

Natalie Hales, a Congressional lobbyist in the ADA's Washington office, encouraged him to share that story during his Hill visits.

Role-playing

The session, "How to Meet with Your Member of Congress," featured a demonstration of a typical visit to an office. The skit was facilitated by Dr. Charles McGinty, a former ADPAC chair, who also played a congressman during the set-up.

Photo of Ms. Askararinam speaking at Lobby Day
What's ahead: Leah Askararinam, an analyst with Inside Elections, shares thoughts on the 2020 elections.
"It's great to be upbeat when you walk in to the offices," instructed Dr. McGinty. "Talk to them, introduce yourself, hand them your business card. Ask for their business card — that's very important. You want that contact information. And ask them where they're from. Many of those staff members are from your home district."

Drs. Maria Maranga and Tim Treat and dental student Lauren Yap assumed the roles of "Rep." McGinty's constituents.

The group also stressed the essential pre-meeting steps of assigning roles and developing talking points for each issue.

What the future holds

After a working lunch where dentists and students met with their state delegations to practice their presentations, Rear Adm. Timothy L. Ricks, chief dental officer for the U.S. Public Health Service, spoke on the advances in dentistry and the upcoming Surgeon's General Report on Oral Health.

"These are really exciting times in oral health and our profession," said Adm. Ricks. "Just within the last few months we've learned more about the relationship between oral health and systemic disease. We've implemented technology that's changed how we practice dentistry and how we communicate with our patients and we see new science every day that redefines what we know about that relationship."

Group photo of Howard dental students enjoying a panel discussion
Having fun: Howard dental students Arlene Asante, Iria Ondo and Lee Goodloe enjoy a panel discussion.
Leah Askararinam, a reporter and analyst with Inside Elections, discussed the 2018 mid-term elections and how the newcomers in Congress have changed the dynamic — which ultimately will affect the 2020 elections, she said.
 
The day's featured speakers were former Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Patti Solis Doyle, a democratic operative and former campaign chief of staff to Joe Biden, exchanged opinions on the policy and politics from the conservative and liberal perspectives.

Sen. Ayotte commended the dentists and students for backing legislation both Republicans and Democrats support.

Group photo with Dr. Parsons and dental students
Advocating together: Dental student Michael Thomas, Dr. Sharon Parsons and predental student Ciara Kirkbride visit with the office of Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio.
"You smartly have bipartisan sponsorship for all your issues because that's the only way that anything gets done," she said.

There was also a tribute to Dr. Loren Feldner, a former chair of the American Dental Political Action Committee. Dr. Feldner, who was also a dental educator and chair of the ADA Council on Dental Accreditation, died Jan. 17.

Follow all Lobby Day activities on social media using the conference's official hashtag, #ToothParty. Stay tuned to ADA News for continuing coverage of Lobby Day.