I am sure all past presidents write their last message with many issues still active in their head but many issues happily resolved. I write this message feeling sad my year as president is soon over, but happy and excited with the way the MDA is headed, knowing what has been and will be accomplished. The minutes of all our committees and board of trustees meeting have been posted on our website, and I encourage you to take a look and see where there might be areas of interest to you. As my time as an officer of the MDA is coming to a close, our leaders will take us on a new path, but the important part is that we walk together. There have been changes and challenges to our system, as there will always be and it is important that we work together; staying informed on the issues and then acting cohesively as members of our MDA, which helps affect the various arms of dentistry in our state.
We as dental professionals are well aware that a healthy mouth is critical to a person’s overall good general health. This relationship needs to be emphasized to our patients and our elected government officials. We will continue to address the many factors that affect the oral health of Minnesotans. Government decision makers who structure policy and program decisions that influence the health of Minnesotans must be educated on the importance of a healthy oral condition. The MDA will continue to work with our partners to support initiatives that ensure the oral health of all Minnesotans, regardless of socioeconomic status. This includes seeking increased government funding for oral health initiatives and for local and state programs that provide services to those Minnesotans who have not been able to access dental services. Your MDA will continue to work with all involved parties to collaborate and deliver our message and be at the table to ensure that organized dentistry has its part in the solutions to health care problems we see in our state today. Your unique skills in diagnosis, treatment planning, and delivering dental care can never be usurped by another care giver, and we must be the leaders of the oral health care team. This means that some of us may work in delivery models that have not been used traditionally, but still in which we maintain the lead presence in the diagnosis and treatment plans and complex care required for the best possible care for all our patients. These are very troubling times for our public program patients and the dedicated dental professionals who care for them with very limited resources and reimbursement.
I have been so very impressed with Minnesota dentists who have taken on huge amounts of care for the underserved, at a loss in reimbursement or no reimbursement. We all know the solution is appropriate state allocation of funding directly for our dental services. While this would solve many issues, we also are acutely aware that our state does not have sufficient funds earmarked at present or in the foreseeable future. That is the challenge we all face on a daily basis. Many of us have had to lay off employees due to this disparity in reimbursement, and many will be forced to do so in the future. This is really unacceptable. Imagine if our legislators were constantly reminded about this by all of us.
One of the ongoing challenges in our communications to these decision makers has been a relative scarcity of state statistical indicators of oral health. This should be changing in the future, as Minnesota has invested in a dental director who is gathering data and information to help us with our mission. Since oral health is often closely correlated with socioeconomic factors, the greatest burden of oral disease will likely be found among disadvantaged Minnesotans. We must always be mindful of the oral health needs of these Minnesotans.
The University of Minnesota has done an excellent job at instilling the sense of desire and responsibility to address the issues of access to care in our students. The outreach activities at our University are at an all-time high, with outreach clinics treating underserved populations in the both the Twin Cities and outstate areas. This experience will, I hope, attract new graduates to serve in underserved regions of our state. I know these programs work, as I was one of those students in the 70s. I was in a clinic rotation in an underserved area in my dental training and did return to an underserved area to practice as a general dentist. It was an experience that was second to none in my development as a professional.
In helping to deliver our message that our system of delivery of dental care is effective, we must be able to articulate our message with reliable and valid evidence. We must get this information to our policy makers in a timely, succinct, easily understood manner. To this end, working united under the MDA and the relationships that we make with our legislators are integral to success. All the well meaning and experienced lobbyists in the world do not make as much impact as each of us connecting on a personal level with our representatives and senators well before the legislative session begins. Dentists need to take an active role in legislation before it is too late. This spring we sent out an urgent CapWiz, asking people who lived in specific legislative districts to contact their legislators. Of the 341 emails sent, only 63 of them were opened, and only seven legislators were contacted using the CapWiz system. Think of the “Dental Day at the Capitol”: Imagine if hundreds of dentists, dental students, and supporters flooded the halls at the Capitol. We would be noticed, and real impact could be made. We need to do better: for ourselves, for our patients, and for our futures in this great profession.
I greatly appreciate all the hard work our committees have done in taking on the challenges of our state. Through all their hard work, we continually make progress to improve the care that our citizens deserve and to advocate for our profession. I am continually excited about all their progress. I urge you to become, and stay, involved in programs around our state. You will be able to augment your skills in new and familiar areas and know you are making a difference in continually evolving areas of need. I ask you to go to our website for more information and please get involved. We need new and young energy throughout our state to carry us through the next decade.
As I speak of a commitment to service, I hope as my daughter begins her dental career that I have been able to instill in her the same passion we must carry to care for our patients and a continual desire to learn and lead. We need new and young energy throughout our state to carry us through the next decade and beyond. I am very encouraged as I see our young members’ involvement in many committees. Now that my time as president is drawing to a close, it is with pleasure that I have served, and I know that those taking over love the MDA as I do and want it to grow and be healthy.
*Dr. Templeton is the 2009-2010 president of the Minnesota Dental Association. He is an oral surgeon at the Veterans Administration Medical Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Email is firstname.lastname@example.org.