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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.

I had a great time this past Saturday participating in the annual Pacific Pride Day open house at our school. This year we had approximately 300 potential students and their family members tour our facilities, learn more about our programs and visit with our family of students, faculty and staff.

Pacific Pride Day is an energizing experience for me. I’m passionate about our field and enjoy talking to anyone considering oral healthcare as a profession.

Our profession is really all about people. Oral healthcare providers make a tremendous impact on people’s lives. Our profession puts a smile on people’s faces. Some people are ashamed of their mouth or their smile. Dentists make a direct impact on a person’s health and state of mind.

Those in the field of oral healthcare also teach people that what goes on in their mouths affects their lives. Saliva in the mouth can tell you about your overall health in many ways. For women who are pregnant, diseases of the mouth can impact the health of their baby. Research has also shown that there is an association between periodontal (gum) diseases and other chronic inflammatory conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease illness and Alzheimer’s disease.

Our profession also makes a tremendous impact on children. Dental decay is one of the most common chronic infectious diseases among childrenthe young. Oral healthcare providers screen and treat thousands of children every day, helping to alleviate pain and give these children a reason to smile.

My education in dentistry led me to my running my own endodontic specialty practice for many years. I was rewarded every day from people I met and treated. I knew I was making a difference in their health and, in doing so, was making an impact on their lives.

For those considering oral healthcare as a profession, I’m here to encourage you. Whether you find a home at our school or another school, I’m glad you are considering this rewarding field.

I was fortunate to listen to a presentation made by Dr. Ling Jun-qi, professor and dean from the Guanghua School of Stomatology in Guangzhou, China. As part of a recent visit to our school, Dr. Ling Jun-qi gave an informative update on the state of dental education and dentistry in her country.

Dental educators from China recently visited our school.
Dental educators from China during a recent meeting and tour of our school.

In the United States, roughly 20 percent of our population has no access to oral healthcare. That equates to around 60 million people.

It is extraordinary when you think of the issue in China where they are dealing with a patient population of 1.5 billion. They have roughly the same number of dentists in China as we have in the U.S. The issues of access to care have to be extremely overwhelming for the country.

As we all know, oral health and overall health go hand in hand. It gives you some sense of the magnitude of the status of health in an incredibly fast-emerging country. When you read about China, it does not give you an excuse to say we are better off. We have significant problems here that need to be solved.

The U.S. is the wealthiest country in the world. At one time, before the economic downturn, California was estimated to have the seventh-largest economy in the world. Yet our state has some of the highest rates of tooth decay among children in the U.S. My perspective is that we have a significant problem for a country of our size and wealth.

Perhaps we have something to learn as other countries struggle with the problem of access to care. How they solve these issues may give us some insight into solving our problems as well. The bottom line is we have a lot to learn from each other. That is the importance of being involved globally. While problems may be of a different magnitude, they are the same in many ways. Access to care for the population is a worldwide problem. It’s a greater problem in many other countries, but we still all should work to develop strategies to address it.

I enjoyed discussing some of these shared issues with the leaders from the Guanghua School of Stomatology. You can read more about their visit and see a photo of the group with our Dean’s Cabinet on our Web site.