The Power of Advocacy

Monday, November 13, 2017

The president-elect of the California Dental Association (CDA) gave an inspiring talk on Nov. 9 on the power of advocacy and the importance of organized dentistry to UCSF students.

Through advocacy, Natasha Lee said, the CDA was able to get Delta Dental, the largest dental benefits carrier in the U.S., to pay providers $34.7 million in a landmark settlement on inadequate reimbursement rates.

Lee, a graduate of the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry, said dental organizations advocate issues benefitting dentists as well as patients, who are often unable to speak for themselves.

This allows organized dentistry to create a better image of the dental profession, which is often maligned as self-centered.

To get legislative action done, state and national organizations must also make it clear that they have the common good in mind.

“Doing good for patients is doing good for us as well,” Lee said.

Along with realizing the 2017 Delta Dental settlement, the CDA worked to reduce the cost of certain dental supplies by 20% by purchasing from companies in bulk, thus obtaining discounts that only large dental practices were previously able to obtain.

Another organization, the Californians Allied for Patient Protection, was able to place limits on the amount patients can sue dentists, thus reducing the number of frivolous lawsuits and bringing down the price of malpractice insurance.

The CDA and its national counterpart, the American Dental Association (ADA), have fought to effect change in the favor of patients as well. The ADA asked Congress to extend children’s dental coverage, while the CDA pressed for increased funding of dental programs in the state budget. The CDA also worked to install a state dental director to better lead the state’s oral health program.

While organized dentistry has successfully advocated on many fronts, there continue to be topics requiring advocacy by the dental community.

Still unresolved are issues like safety and quality in dentistry, the cost of dental education, and the potential use of mid-level providers — professionals with just a few years of training who perform some procedures that dentists currently perform.

The CDA needs to find solutions to common complaints related to insurance and the scarcity of dental assistants in expensive San Francisco, said Lee.

The organization’s leadership must also focus on maintaining its numbers by potentially offering membership at a lower cost.

Dental students can advocate issues by participating in the ADA Dentist and Student Lobby Day, Lee said, where professionals and students come together to speak with legislators in Washington D.C. on the present and future of dentistry.

However, dental students do not have to travel to Washington D.C. to effect change. They can make a difference simply by speaking to their classmates about why it is important to contribute to organized dentistry.

They can also sign up for ADA action alerts to keep themselves informed on critical issues.

Advocacy by dental professionals can benefit not only themselves, as in the CDA settlement with Delta Dental, but also the greater community, via the pursuit of a stronger national oral health system.