Oral Health America kicked off their national #FallForSmiles campaign with Advocacy Week in Washington, DC October 1st through 5th. Oral Health advocates from all over the nation showed up virtually and in person to align their efforts and meet with their members of congress. The event had sponsorship from great partners like 3M and Glaxo Smith-Kline. It is a week to highlight the importance of oral health equity and policies that impact oral health for all.
This year’s theme was Open Your Mouth: Oral Health is Health! It highlights the need for advocacy around the importance of oral health and its connection to whole health and social justice. Monday kicked off with a twitter chat among national advocacy organizations like Children’s Dental Health Project and Families USA. Social Media is an effective loud speaker to get the message across. Folks discussed topics like medicare dental coverage, the need for school based health dental prevention programs, fluoridated water, and other vital population based interventions. The conversation included addressing social determinants of health and health policy and how that has the potential to make oral health more equitable in communities.
Oral Health Advocates showed up from states across the country to meet with their members of congress in DC. On Tuesday we discussed some talking points to guide and anchor the advocates on pressing issues. The OHA team prepared packets with their State of Decay report that compares oral health data from state to state. The folders were meant to leave behind with the staff members to give them some follow up information to digest. The OHA staff scheduled our visits with leaders. They matched us with the representatives and senators from our home states so that the power of constituency could work to our advantage. We spent Tuesday and Wednesday having those important conversations. There were hygienists, dentists, child advocates, industry leaders, and others who showed up and partnered to elevate the current issues. We were grouped up regionally and we told our communities’ stories and shared the data.
In Senator Rand Paul‘s office we were able to thank him for his recent advocacy for medicare dental coverage for medically necessary care. In Representative John Yarmuth‘s office we were able to thank him for his work to protect medicaid dental coverage for the expansion population in Kentucky. Advocacy is about building relationships. Health policy should be a bi-partisan issue. All Americans should have access to quality affordable care. Reaching across party lines to strategize and create long term goals with partners that will get the results we need.
As the advocates headed back home, the conversation returned to social media yesterday with an Instagram takeover by OHA fellows and interns. They answered the question “How do you advocate for oral health?”. It brings us full circle to involve current students and new graduates in the profession. It will take all of us to make the change we need for oral health equity. Crossing the span of experience, education, sector, and party, we can partner for oral health for all. We all have a stake in oral health. As oral health professionals we have a special responsibility to take our expertise and knowledge to raise awareness with the community at large. Even more, we have to take the next step to call on key leaders and policy makers to move the needle forward. Oral Health America has committed resources and effort to leading the way in advocacy for oral health equity. If you have not joined us yet, do it next year. I hope to see you there.