By Lauren J. Gaffney
Delegates from across the United States gathered in Washington, DC in mid December for the fifth White House Conference on Aging. The conference was designed to make recommendations to the President and Congress to help guide national aging policies on a host of topics including healthcare, financial security, transportation, as well as overall safety, for the next ten years. As 78 million baby boomers will begin turning 60 in 2006, the creation of a national policy on aging has become a hot topic; oral health needs of this population are of great concern.
Among the 1,200 delegates representing the 50 states, U.S. Territories, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia, four were dental educators. Dr. Paula K. Friedman, associate dean of the Boston University Goldman School of Dental Medicine, Dr. Richard S. Callan, assistant professor in the Department of Oral Rehabilitation at the Medical College of Georgia School of Dentistry, Dr. Howard Cowen, associate professor of clinical dentistry and director of the Admissions Clinic at the University of Iowa College of Dentistry, and Dr. G. Kirk Gleason, an American Dental Association trustee, served as delegates for their home states and worked relentlessly to ensure that oral health needs of the elderly were included in the recommendations to lawmakers.
"Through preconference collaboration and on-site strategy sessions, we were successful, with the support of a number of coalitions, in having dentistry included in two of the top ten priority areas (selected from 73 areas of discussion) that will be presented for administrative and congressional action,” said Dr. Friedman. “It will be ADEA’s responsibility as an association to help focus attention of the importance of oral health to the overall health of our maturing population. We learned that others are supportive of oral health as a priority, and that it is the dental profession that must provide leadership in setting the agenda.”
The ten priority areas will ostensibly become the backbone for legislation on how to adequately provide for our aging population. Without the support of dental educators and advocates for parity in oral health, it is not certain that these topics would be included in such legislation. It is a small victory for dentistry and oral health advocates to be recognized specifically in two of these recommendations, and will hopefully be followed by more support and greater understanding of the important role oral health plays in the overall health of all Americans.