Dental students lobby for dentistry during virtual Grassroots Advocacy Days

Alonzo Osche

CDA’s Grassroots Advocacy Days have resumed, but instead of in-person meetings at the state Capitol in Sacramento, student representatives from California’s six dental schools have been meeting with legislators and legislative staff via Zoom over the last few weeks to lobby for critical issues affecting dentistry.

CDA coordinates these small-group advocacy days each year to give dental societies and dental student representatives the opportunity to meet with lawmakers and have in-depth, interactive conversations about dentistry and oral health.

Major bills sponsored by CDA were up for discussion, including AB 454 by Assemblymember Freddie Rodriguez (D-Pomona), which would provide financial relief to practice owners during future public health emergencies through dental-plan provided assistance, and an initiative to reimburse Medi-Cal Dental providers for some of the cost related to new COVID-19 infection control and PPE requirements.

“This was the first time I’ve ever participated in organized dentistry in this way,” said Amanda Gramacy, a second-year student at the University of California, San Francisco School of Dentistry. “It was interesting to interact with important leaders in our community and talk about issues that are important to me and the dental profession.”

During her conversations with legislators, Gramacy advocated against the sugar-sweetened beverage local tax preemption, a longtime key issue for CDA and a cause that she says is personal to her. As a research fellow in the John C. Greene Society, a primarily student-run dental research organization at UCSF, Gramacy is currently doing research on the sugar-sweetened beverage industry and its influence and impact on public policies.

Californians might have voted on a statewide soda tax in the November 2018 general election; however, a statewide preemption on local soda taxes, largely funded by the soda industry, took effect that year, removing the soda tax initiative from the voting ballot and prohibiting local cities or counties from implementing their own soda taxes for 13 years, until 2030.

CDA and a coalition of more than a dozen leading health care organizations are co-sponsoring AB 1163 by Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian (D-Van Nuys) to remove the statewide ban on local surgary drink taxes. CDA has stated that AB 1163 will return power to local cities and counties, allowing them to pass such taxes if they are appropriate for their own communities.

Another top agenda item was a CDA co-sponsored bill by Assemblymember Jim Wood, DDS (D-Healdsburg) that focuses on COVID-19 vaccine administration and testing. If signed into law, AB 526 would allow dentists to administer the COVID-19 and flu vaccines beyond the current COVID-19 public health emergency.

For now, a Department of Consumer Affairs waiver allows dentists to temporarily administer COVID-19 vaccines at mass-vaccination clinics.

“If this bill gets approved, people who may not normally see their primary care doctor would be able to get their vaccine from their dentist who they typically see more often,” said Amy Lee, a second-year student at Loma Linda University School of Dentistry.

If signed into law, AB 526 would also permit dentists to conduct COVID-19 rapid tests for their patients and dental teams and allow dental students to participate as vaccinators at their school clinics. 

Supporting initiatives that increase access to care is one of Lee’s passions. She earned her master’s degree in public health from the University of Southern California before enrolling in dental school.

CDA’s Grassroots Advocacy Day was her first lobbying experience as a dental student and she admits that she initially struggled with presenting the issues to legislators and their staff. As the day went on, Lee says she grew more comfortable speaking and plans to use her experience to continue advocating on behalf of the dental profession.

“This was a great experience,” she said. “I not only gained valuable insight about lobbying, but this was a personal growth experience that helped build my confidence to speak in front of people I don’t know so that I can bring awareness and call for change on issues that affect dentistry.”

As the dental profession continues to evolve, Gramacy is encouraging more dental students to be proactive with addressing public policy issues that could shape the future of dentistry.

“The field of dentistry and the demographics are changing,” she said. “We’re younger, there are more women, and with that comes our responsibility to voice how we feel about these issues, because if we don’t, then they will never get brought to the table.”

Learn more about the legislation CDA is sponsoring in the article “Dental practice stability, vaccine scope expansion head CDA’s legislative priorities in 2021.”

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