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The issue of access to dental care — or the lack thereof — is getting its fair share of attention in organized dentistry and throughout the communities.

The access-to-care issue (or “barriers to care” as some organizations refer to it) involves this question: how to best provide dental care to people with lesser economic means, those who live in remote rural areas, seniors, or other underserved or vulnerable Americans who may not be able to access traditional private dental practices or community health clinics?

Ongoing debates are happening in California and across the United States. This is a complex topic because it is a complex problem. States are trying different approaches and a “one-size-fits-all” model will most likely not prevail in the immediate future based on differences between states, not to mention the residents they serve.

I was recently asked by the California Dental Association to chair its Taskforce on Workforce. Several years ago, funding for the Taskforce was approved by the CDA House of Delegates. The Taskforce report has now been released, and I direct you to the CDA's website where CDA members may access the report. There is much in the report that should be digested by all members of our profession. The committee members plus staff worked on the project for many hours.

The process will continue to be long and surely will not be solved overnight. Dental professionals and leaders in organized dentistry are weighing in with their views. Any recommendations for change in our state will ultimately be reviewed and voted upon by the CDA House of Delegates.

The bottom line is that everyone involved in this issue should look at the evidence. Examine the research and findings of experts who are studying the issue. Whatever your personal position is on this complex issue, I invite you to be at the table. Stay up to date on the evidence. Learn a little more about different models of care. Get involved in CDA and other dental organizations. Discuss the issue with colleagues at local dental society meetings. The CDA has published a list of a series of town hall meetings. I encourage you to attend.

Leadership is one of the core values of the Dugoni School of Dentistry. One of the phrases we often hear around our school is that as a dentist, you are a leader simply by the nature of your role. You are a leader to your patients, family, friends, staff, and professional colleagues as well as in the community.

It is important for dentists to stay engaged with the complex issue of access to care.

A recent story in The New York Times, “State Lags in Dental Health Care for Children”, highlights the dire need for dental care for children in this state.

According to the article:

California children’s dental health was ranked third from the bottom in the National Survey of Children’s Health, above only Arizona and Texas. In the Bay Area, children and teenagers up to the age of 17 made nearly 1,980 visits to emergency rooms for preventable dental conditions in 2007. The cost of these visits averaged $172, but if a problem required hospitalization it cost an average of $5,000.

In 2007, the last year that data for many reports was available, more than 500,000 California children between the ages of 5 and 17 missed at least one day of school in a year because of dental problems, costing school districts $29.7 million dollars in lost revenue.

Even though these statistics sound dire, I do hope this press coverage will encourage families, members of the dental community, legislative representatives and others involved in healthcare issues to reinforce the need for our state to do a better job in providing early prevention and regular dental care for children, including those from the neediest families among us. As we hear with many other issues these days, the status quo is unacceptable.

The timing of this article relates to a recent event I attended to support dental care for children of underserved families. Our school’s Kids in the Klinic endowment helps thousands of needy children in the San Francisco Bay Area and Central Valley each year obtain care at the dental school’s clinics. Some have complex medical dental problems. The goal is to establish a $2 million Kids in the Klinic Endowment to help provide ongoing funding to address the dental needs of our community’s children, from infants to teenagers.

I would like to thank everyone involved in the May 8 Vino de Mayo wine auction and fundraiser, an event I recently attended that raised more than $125,000 for Kids in the Klinic — the most ever raised at the event.

Another opportunity to show support for children’s dental care is by attending the Kids in the Klinic Golf Classic on June 29, 2010 at The Olympic Club. Participants will enjoy an 18-hole round of golf on the Ocean Course or the exclusive Lake Course, which has been ranked as one of the top courses in the United States and is the site of the 2012 U.S. Open. There also will be a silent and live auction, and dinner. Find out more and register >>

If you can’t make this event, feel free to visit www.kidsintheklinic.org to learn more about how to support the Kids in the Klinic Endowment. This endowment is just one small part of the solution to the crisis around children’s dental care in California. Every week we see grateful parents and children who are receiving much-needed care thanks to this funding, so we know it is making a difference in their lives.

Please click below to learn more about Kids in the Klinic and see how it is changing lives one smile at a time:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bDoAkQesTpE]

Last Monday, I had a fantastic opportunity to play one of the top golf courses in the country, the Lake Course at the Olympic Club, just south of San Francisco.

More impressive than the quality of the course, however, was the goal of this special event, the 12th annual “Kids in the Klinic” Golf Classic. Our school raised nearly $90,000 through the tournament, silent auction, live auction and sponsor donations.

The Kids in the Klinic endowment helps fund dental services for underserved children throughout Northern California. More than 1,500 children, including some with special needs, extensive medical conditions and debilitating conditions, call the Dugoni School of Dentistry their dental office. This year especially, the endowment plays a critical role in providing care in this time of economic need by so many families.

While my golf game could use a tune-up, I felt great about my round, no matter what the score. This event brings out the best in our school family. We had student and staff volunteers, donors, alumni, recent graduates and friends of the school all participating and getting involved to produce a unique event at one of the most historic athletic clubs in the country. If you were there, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. If you haven’t yet participated, please keep it in mind for next year.

Dr. Susan Bittner, one of our school’s graduates, started Kids in the Klinic in 1997. She had the vision and took the initiative to create this endowment, which has positively impacted thousands of children over the years.

I’d also like to also thank our event chairman Steve Mollinelli, who put so much time into the Golf Classic. He and his wife just welcomed a new baby boy a few weeks ago. We’re thankful for everything he did to organize the event amid his busy schedule with his newborn son.

Our corporate sponsors also stepped up to the tee to support this cause. You can read our full list of sponsors, as well as a recap of the event, by visiting the news story posted here. Thanks again to everyone involved!

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This is a tumultuous time for state budgets around the country, and the Golden State is no different.

I would like to call your attention to a proposed cut in the California state budget that threatens the oral health of our citizens.

The state legislature has eliminated adult Denti-Cal insurance benefits from the state budget as of July 1, 2009. Denti-Cal is part of Medi-Cal, which is California’s version of the federal Medicaid program. Medi-Cal provides health care to 6.6 million low-income and disabled residents. The proposed cuts will impact thousands of adults, including many from already underserved and vulnerable populations.

If Denti-Cal insurance is eliminated, people around the state will suffer from the loss of quality dental care, including preventative procedures. Patients will then require more complex and costly procedures, and when in need may turn to hospital emergency rooms and other expensive options.

Our school is monitoring the situation closely. The proposed cuts directly impact the patient base at our clinics, especially the main dental clinic in San Francisco, since many patients there use Denti-Cal insurance. The clinic staff, students and faculty have been communicating with patients to inform them about the proposed elimination of Denti-Cal benefits.

I encourage members of the dental community to voice support for Denti-Cal by contacting their representatives in the Senate and Assembly. If you want to send a message, you can find your representatives by going to http://www.legislature.ca.gov and typing in your address in the “Find My District” box in the right-hand column. The link will take you to the representative’s web site through which you can send an email asking that Denti-Cal benefits funding be restored.