State dental director and CDA present at National Oral Health Conference

The National Oral Health Conference is an annual meeting of health professionals who are working to improve the oral health of populations in the U.S. and around the world. Co-hosted by the American Association of Public Health Dentistry and the Association of State and Territorial Dental Directors, this five-day conference brings together experts in science, academia, public health, advocacy and clinical practice to explore promising programs and policies for oral health across the lifespan.

This year, CDA’s work in this field was showcased in two presentations.

“Collaborating with Organized Dentistry to Strengthen the State Oral Health Infrastructure in California — Lessons Learned”highlighted CDA’s successful advocacy for a state dental director and funding to implement the state oral health plan. Jared Fine, DDS, led off the presentation by describing how his leadership in public health and organized dentistry brought these two worlds together to move projects forward, including First Smiles, a statewide infant oral health assessment training program for physicians and dentists; Healthy Kids, Healthy Teeth, a Denti-Cal demonstration project to increase dental visits for children ages 0-5; and the 2008 House of Delegates resolution directing CDA to research and recommend strategies to address barriers to oral health care in California.

In “Aligning Partners in School-Based Oral Health Programming with State Oral Health Plans,” Gayle Mathe, CDA Public Affairs staff, presented on CDA’s advocacy to fund and fill the position of state dental director and the association’s success in securing $30 million in dedicated funding annually from Proposition 56, the 2016 Tobacco Tax Initiative, to implement the state oral health plan. California State Dental Director Jay Kumar, DDS, brought the discussion full circle, detailing how he plans to invest this funding in California’s oral health infrastructure. Central to the presentation was how the partnership between a well-functioning private practice sector and a well-functioning public health sector serves as a foundation for success in California.

“I was thrilled to present with CDA at the National Oral Health Conference,” Kumar said. “It is a gathering of the best and brightest in dental public health, and it was a great pleasure to be able to share California’s successes.”

Also showcased at the conference was a 90-minute workshop on kindergarten oral health assessments. Gayle Mathe described CDA’s advocacy in 2005 for the original law, AB 1433, and CDA’s subsequent support for its implementation over the years. Frances Walsh and Hal Slavkin, DDS, spoke on behalf of the L.A. Trust for Children’s Health and its recent implementation of the assessment in the Los Angeles Unified School District, beginning with a groundbreaking resolution by the LAUSD Board of Education in support of oral health. The 100 workshop attendees worked in groups of 10 to explore the barriers, proposal champions and next steps for similar policy in their own states or local jurisdictions.

Read more about CDA’s legislative and policy advocacy work at cda.org/advocacy.

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For more than 38 years, Jared Fine, DDS, MPH, was the dental health administrator for the Alameda County Public Health Department, where he built one of the most progressive and effective dental health programs in the state. After retiring from the department, Fine became an advocate for sugar-sweetened beverage taxation in Oakland. He is now the community dental ambassador for the Alameda County Local Dental Pilot Project. In this Q&A, Fine talks about that project and the role of private dentists.

A 10-year plan for addressing the major oral health issues in California was released in late January by the California Department of Public Health. Developed over three years in collaboration with the Department of Health Care Services, the plan identifies strategies to improve oral health over the lifespan and to achieve oral health equity for the state’s diverse population.

Five years after CDA developed a proposal to reduce barriers to dental care in California, several of the proposal’s objectives have come to pass. Most notably was the 2015 installation of Jayanth Kumar, DDS, MPH, as state dental director. And now, thanks in part to the passage of Proposition 56, the state oral health plan that CDA and other stakeholders helped develop over the past year will receive a significant financial boost of $30 million annually.