Oregon lawmakers were certainly busy during this past legislative session, spending time on everything from transportation infrastructure, to housing affordability, to balancing a budget of $21 billion. While these efforts are commendable, there is one issue that doesn’t end when legislators adjourn: equitable access to oral health care.
As a public health dentist in Eugene, I am passionate about ensuring that everyone has access to a licensed, professional oral health care provider, regardless of where they live or how much money they make. I have spent the past eight years of my career at White Bird Community Dental Clinic treating underserved populations in Lane County.
Thankfully, Oregon lawmakers took much-needed steps this year toward expanding access to oral health care for all Oregonians.
The renewal of the Medicaid Primary Care Loan Repayment program and Oregon’s rural medical practitioners tax credits were important steps toward ensuring that all Oregonians — especially those in rural and under served areas — have access to fully trained dentists. These programs are vital to bringing health care providers to the rural areas that need them.
The Legislature also addressed tobacco and tobacco products during this year’s session. By raising the legal age to purchase these products from 18 to 21, lawmakers tackled head on health concerns associated with tobacco use, such as oral cancer and periodontal disease. I applaud our legislators’ dedication to improving the health, including oral health, of younger Oregonians.
Oregon Health and Science University’s School of Dentistry also made significant strides to expand access to oral health care by working with lawmakers on the Native American Health Scholarship program. This program would provide free tuition and fees to members of tribes who commit to practicing at a tribal service site. The scholarship program, newly proposed in the 2017 session, may take another session to fully develop and pass. Nevertheless, advocates are optimistic about the future opportunities it will provide to expand equitable dental care among Oregon’s tribes.
Oral health experts also advocated the passage of an oral health school screenings law, which would have ensured that certain oral health data be reported to the state as well as to parents, providing vital data for future program and funding decisions. I am hopeful that this issue will also be revisited by lawmakers in the future, perhaps as early as the 2018 short legislative session.
Oregon’s Legislature demonstrated once again that dental health is not a partisan issue. I am grateful for lawmakers’ efforts to ensure equitable access to professional dental care, and look forward to the work that remains to be done. Expanding access to care is vital to the well-being of our state, our children and all Oregonians.
The session may be over, but the job is not yet done.
Dr. Ben Meyer has been a practicing dentist at the White Bird Clinic in Eugene for the past eight years, offering emergency, preventive and restorative dental care.
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