50 Years Pursuing Oral Health for All: Views of a Clinician, Hill Staffer, Advocate, and Academic
The separation of dentistry from mainstream medicine in 1840 presaged a marginalization of oral health as a bona fide concern of public policymakers responsible for issues of healthcare financing and delivery. This legacy of marginalization continues today as evidenced by Congress’s recent failure to establish a Medicare dental benefit for seniors and its recurrent disinterest in establishing a Medicaid dental benefit for poor and disabled adults despite providing comprehensive medical coverage in both.
Dr. Edelstein, a pediatric dentist, left private practice in 1996 after 20 years and became an “accidental tourist” on Capitol Hill, in K Street’s lobby-land, and as an academic at Columbia with the singular aim of advancing oral health equity. This EPIC presentation will explore dentistry as a profession and professional college at Columbia in contexts of social justice and public health. It will detail the rise and fall of a small non-profit policy shop, the Children’s Dental Health Project, that secured almost universal dental coverage for US children. Current and recent research at the College of Dental Medicine will highlight the potential for pushing policy from inside academe. Finally, a bit of crystal-ball gazing will anticipate the short- and long- term future of oral health integration with general health and healthcare.
Burton Edelstein, DDS, MPH, is Professor Emeritus of Dental Medicine and Health Policy and Management at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center where he chaired the Section of Population Oral Health at the College of Dental Medicine. He was Senior Fellow in Public Policy and President Emeritus of the Children’s Dental Health Project, a DC-based nonprofit that advanced the oral health interests of children and their families. Since 1996–97 when he served as a Health Aide to the US Senate Minority Leader, he has led a federal interagency oral health initiative, served as a Medicaid and CHIP Commissioner, and directed a US Surgeon General’s Workshop on Oral Health. At Columbia since 2000, he has developed a research and teaching portfolio at the intersections of dental science, public health, clinical practice, and federal policy.