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MyView: Presenting Action for Dental Health

October 02, 2017

By Cheryl Watson-Lowry, D.D.S.

Cheryl Watson-Lowry, D.D.S.
It was during my first year on the Council on Advocacy for Access and Prevention in 2013 that the Action for Dental Health was launched at a press conference in Washington, D.C.

At that time, the initiatives of the Action for Dental Health were very topical. Community water fluoridation; the Medicaid program; ER referral; medical/dental collaboration; elder care; and the Community Dental Health Coordinator program were certainly newsworthy projects.

I remember hearing about the initiatives and thinking how important they were, not only to underserved populations, but to the ADA members in the continuing effort of showing how we care for the public.

When Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., introduced the Action for Dental Health bill this year after working with the ADA Washington office, it seemed to be great timing to seek to amend the Public Health Service Act to improve essential oral health care for low-income and other underserved individuals by breaking down barriers to care.

Having been in practice long enough to know that there are many barriers to care, there is one that I believe is the most imperative to address — the education of patients regarding prevention. So when I received the call from Rep. Kelly’s office to testify before a subcommittee in our nation’s capital about the initiatives, I was excited about being able to shine a light on that portion of this very important bill.

Thanks to the Washington office and council staff, I felt prepared to testify, although the prospect of speaking before a congressional subcommittee was a bit daunting.

The process is very structured with a specific number of minutes to read a prepared statement. The potential to get questions — any kind of dental question — from any of the subcommittee members can be a little intimidating. After all, I have seen my share of congressional hearings on television.

As I flew to Washington for my testimony with my son Bill Jr., who is in law school, a number of thoughts crossed my mind. What if the “time’s up” red light came on before I finished reading the prepared statement? Or what if one of the congressmen decided to use their time to make negative statements about ADA efforts to help improve the public’s oral health? I knew I would then feel compelled to use my time to defend our efforts.

The morning arrived.

Jennifer Fisher, ADA congressional lobbyist, asked that I meet her at the ADA headquarters before heading to Capitol Hill. Along with Mike Graham, ADA senior vice president for government affairs, we reviewed the procedures that they expected for the testimony.

From there, we taxied over to Capitol Hill. After passing through Capitol security, we headed to the subcommittee hearing room. There we met Rep. Kelly and several members of her staff. She told me that they were there to support me and my testimony of the Action for Dental Health bill.

I was then seated at a long conference table along with three other people there to testify regarding their perspective bills. After we each read our opening statements, the subcommittee chair gave a statement and opened the floor up to the congressional members for questions. They each had five minutes, which included their statements, their questions to any or all of us seated in the hot seats and our answers. After fielding questions from the group for almost two hours, I felt that I was able to impress upon them the importance of this bill to the American public.

After it was all over, my reflections included some key observations. First, I am grateful and honored to have been able to have such an exciting experience. Secondly and most importantly, elected officials need to hear our story so we can sincerely deliver a message. They hear so many sides of so many issues that when we come face to face with any congressional members, it is important to be prepared and have a few critical points for them to understand an elevator speech.

Throughout the year, you may receive invitations to fundraisers for your elected officials or be included in their newsletters or emails. Try to get to their events to get acquainted with them and their staff members. Let them know that you are an ADA member. Keep in mind that you are seen by them as an expert on dental issues. You never know — maybe you’ll get a call to testify before a congressional subcommittee and find yourself on C-SPAN.

Dr. Watson-Lowry is the secretary of the Chicago Dental Society and will become president-elect in November. She is also a former member of the ADA Council on Advocacy for Access and Prevention.