Students advocate for dentistry, oral health at the state Capitol

Grassroots Advocacy Days are in full swing as student representatives from California’s six dental schools met with their local legislators and legislative staff to discuss critical issues affecting dentistry.

CDA coordinates these small-group advocacy days each year at the state Capitol in Sacramento. The goal is to help members learn about the legislative process and to allow participants to have in-depth, interactive discussions with lawmakers about dentistry and oral health.  

“Health care providers hold a privileged place in society,” said Nevatha Mathialagan, a second-year student at the University of California, San Francisco School of Dentistry. “Through advocacy, we have the potential to impact millions of people across the state and nation.”

Student representatives were educated on recent bills and policies currently under discussion in the state Legislature. Brad Morgan, a first-year student at UCSF School of Dentistry, on Feb. 26 met with legislative aides for Assemblymembers David Chiu and Phil Ting and Sen. Scott Wiener. During the visit, they covered topics such as the expansion of dental coverage to more Californians through universal health care and Medi-Cal funding – a critical issue Morgan says he is passionate about.

“Affordable, accessible dental care is out of reach for so many Americans, and we need innovative solutions and smart policy to combat the oral health crisis plaguing our nation,” said Morgan. “This is a shining example of why Advocacy Day is so vital — it increases awareness of the issues among legislators and allows us to present our vision for a healthier California.”

A voice in the legislative process

Students discussed major legislation sponsored by CDA, including Senate Bill 154 (Pan, D-Sacramento). If passed, the bill would add silver diamine fluoride as a Medi-Cal benefit for treatment of dental decay when applied as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. Additionally, students and lawmakers discussed a package of five bills that aim to reduce the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. As of this article’s publication, two of those five bills are moving forward, and the advocacy campaign will assist CDA’s joint effort with the California Medical Association to place a statewide soda tax on the November 2020 ballot.

For Mathialagan, participating in Grassroots Advocacy Days was more than a one-time experience, but an opportunity to learn more about the impact she will have as a dental care provider.

“I learned how professional organizations such as CDA operate and their role in the policymaking process,” Mathialagan said. “As a future dentist, I strive to better understand the voice that I have in the legislative process.”

Leah Andriasian, a second-year student at the UCLA School of Dentistry, attended Advocacy Day on April 10 with fellow students from her school as well as dental students from the Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC, Loma Linda School of Dentistry and the Western University School of Dental Medicine.

“I started learning more about advocacy work last year when I had the opportunity to attend the American Dental Association dentists and student lobby day,” Andriasian said. “As students, I didn’t think we could make a difference, but I’ve come to realize that we are the future of dentistry and it is important that we advocate not only for ourselves but for our future patients as well.” (Watch Andriasian talk about her experience in short video.)

Andriasian’s group had the opportunity to meet with staff members from Assemblymember Richard Bloom’s office. “His office was really open to hearing about issues affecting dentistry — it’s great to know that legislators care about what we have to say and are willing to help make a change,” she added.

Understanding the importance of advocacy work and getting involved is a goal that Manpreet Singh believes dental students should strive for. Singh received his Bachelor of Dental Surgery in India and is currently a first-year student in Loma Linda School of Dentistry’s international program. After meeting with Assemblymember Jose Medina, Singh says he is grateful that he and fellow students had the opportunity to voice their opinions to legislators.  

“I highly recommend that dental students get involved in advocacy work,” Singh said. “Once you learn about these issues, you are more inclined to get involved to help bring change.”

Grassroots Advocacy Days will continue into the summer, with component dental societies meeting with legislators through June at the Capitol.

Learn more about CDA’s advocacy work.

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Silver diamine fluoride would become a covered benefit as a treatment option for tooth decay for specified Medi-Cal Dental Program enrollees under a new bill authored by Sen. Richard Pan. Senate Bill 154 would make SDF a covered benefit if applied as part of a patient’s comprehensive treatment plan and with the patient’s written informed consent.

A broad coalition of dentists, physicians, and public health advocates announced their support for a package of bills aimed at reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and ensuring that corporations like The Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc. stop targeting low-income communities and pay their fair share of public health costs.