150 years of advocacy

According to our recent membership surveys, ODA members greatly value the advocacy efforts of organized dentistry that help to protect the interests of dentists and their patients and to promote strong oral health. The history of organized dentistry in Ohio effectively advocating for dentistry goes back to the ODA’s founding 150 years ago.

In June 1866, 41 dentists met at Naughton Hall in Columbus to form a statewide association for the dental profession with the aims of “mutual fellowship and recognition, the promoting of the honor, usefulness and interests of the profession, the advancement and cultivation of professional science and literature, the encouragement of a more thorough professional education, and the protection of the public from empiricism.” One way the newly formed Ohio State Dental Society (as the ODA was then known) achieved these goals was through advocacy. In fact, legislative advocacy was on the agenda of the inaugural meeting in 1866, immediately following the adoption of a constitution and bylaws and the development of a written code of professional ethics.

The attendees at that first meeting discussed legislation to prevent “quacks” from practicing dentistry in Ohio. This proposed legislation was designed to create a state board of dental examiners, the members of which would be elected by the members of the Ohio State Dental Society. This new state dental board would have the authority to give annual examinations and to certify those dentists who passed the exam. The members of the dental society actively lobbied the legislature to pass the legislation, which became law in 1868, making it one of the earliest state dental laws.

In 1892, Ohio’s dental law was amended to give the governor the authority to appoint the members of the state board of dental examiners and to give the state board more widespread powers to govern the practice of dentistry. In 1914, the legislature again amended the dental practice act by giving the state board of dental examiners additional authority over dental education. This led to the recognition of the dental schools at The Ohio State University and Western Reserve University and to the closure of private proprietary dental schools, which were poorly financed and had spotty performance in training dentists. This movement toward more formal dental education was one of the priorities of the ODA as it worked to ensure patients received quality oral health care services and that the dental profession maintained the highest standards.

When scientific evidence in the first half of the last century demonstrated that fluoride in drinking water prevents tooth decay, organized dentistry responded. In 1950, the ADA passed a resolution encouraging water fluoridation and, over the next two decades, the ODA and local Ohio dental societies advocated to fluoridate water systems across Ohio. In 1969, the ODA successfully lobbied to have the state legislature enact a law requiring most municipalities to fluoridate their water systems unless they opted out via a local ballot issue. Today, because of the efforts of the ODA, more than 90 percent of Ohioans live in communities with fluoridated water systems, which is well above the national average of 67 percent. Because of its positive impact on oral health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared that water fluoridation is one of the top 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th Century. The ODA helped to make the promise of water fluoridation a reality in Ohio.

In the last half of the 20th Century, advancements in research on infectious diseases and appropriate sterilization in the dental office led to a better understanding of how to protect patients and dentists and their staff. In Ohio, the ODA pushed for the adoption of science-based infection control laws, regulations and standards to ensure the provision of dental care in Ohio is the safest in the world. And today, Ohioans have complete confidence that the care they receive from their dentist is safe and effective.

As the practice of dentistry has changed, so has the role of the dental team. One hundred and fifty years ago, dentists provided their services with little or no professional assistance. Technological advancements and the expansion of dental assisting, dental hygiene, and EFDA education spearheaded by organized dentistry, have enhanced the dental team, making the delivery of care more efficient and effective.

In the 1980s and 1990s, runaway litigation led to a malpractice crisis in Ohio where health care professionals regularly faced the threat of frivolous lawsuits and malpractice insurance premiums experienced double-digit increases on an annual basis. The ODA’s advocacy team formed a coalition with other health care groups to reform the dental and medical malpractice laws to ensure dentists and other health care providers were treated fairly, including putting time limits on liability and caps on damages. These reforms improved the ability of dentists to provide the care their patients need free from the threat of unfair and unnecessary litigation.

The ODA has a long history of working to ensure third-parties do not interfere with the dentist-patient relationship, including passing prompt payment laws ensuring insurance companies pay claims in a timely manner and mandating streamlined credentialing processes. We are continuing those efforts today as we advocate for House Bill 95 to prohibit dental insurers from dictating fees for services they don’t even cover. (See page 1 for more on House Bill 95.)

Throughout its existence, the ODA has led the charge on access to dental care initiatives, including pushing to reform the dental Medicaid program, ensure continued dental Medicaid coverage for adults, create loan repayment programs and other incentives for dentists to serve in underserved communities, provide immunity from lawsuits for volunteer care and many other initiatives to ensure Ohio’s most vulnerable citizens continue to have access to high quality dental care.

The recent efforts by outside entities to push the concept of under-trained individuals engaging in the practice of dentistry in Ohio is another example of how the ODA works to protect the public and Ohio’s dental patients. While the advocates of Senate Bill 330 argue that Ohio should have a two-tiered system where under-served Ohioans get treated by a lesser trained individual while other more fortunate Ohioans can get treated by a dentist, the ODA is working to ensure ALL Ohioans have access to the full range of dental services provided by a fully trained dentist (see page 1 for more on Senate Bill 330).

As we celebrate the ODA’s sesquicentennial, it is a good time to reflect upon, and celebrate, the ODA’s 150 year history of advocating for the interests of the dental profession, Ohio’s dental patients and the public’s oral health needs. Today, Ohioans have access to the highest quality oral health care in the world because of these efforts.