by Christine Nathe, RDH, MS
This month I'm spotlighting an organization that has been integral in addressing oral health issues for many decades. Although founded in 1955 to support dental education and research in collaboration with the American Dental Association, OHA was reorganized in 1994 as an independent nonprofit organization to represent the oral health interests of all Americans.
OHA is a 401c nonprofit corporation) whose mission is to change lives by connecting communities with resources to increase access to care, education, and advocacy for all Americans, especially the most vulnerable. OHA works to accomplish this through its programs and partnerships, with the long-term vision of an oral disease-free United States.
OHA received $1.8 million in operating revenue – which included $329,000 in donated equipment and dental supplies – from individuals, foundations, and corporate donors this past year. Using these resources, OHA advocates for oral health care and encourages policies and laws that create oral health equity, good nutrition, and tobacco control for Americans. In addition, OHA provides grant funding, technical assistance, and donated dental products to community partners to help secure services for Americans in need. (www.oralhealthamerica.org)
OHA has five key programs that support its mission:
- Medical Dental Dialogues: Communicates with medical and dental professionals about integrating oral and systemic disease diagnoses, management, and treatment. The 2009 symposium, Collaborative Healthcare for Older Adults, brought together leaders from geriatric, systemic, and oral health disciplines to address the needs of older Americans. Sponsored by OHA, the New York Academy of Science (NYAS), and Columbia College of Dental Medicine and College of Physicians and Surgeons, the symposium attracted people from the academic, research, public health, and business communities. You can view the Medical Dental Dialogues symposium eBriefings from 2009 at www.nyas.org/collaborative.
- Wisdom Tooth Project: This shares promising partnerships and strategies, and promotes consumer-oriented campaigns for the growing senior population and their families through regional meetings and on-line communities.
- NSTEP® (National Spit Tobacco Education Program): Educates people, especially young people, about the health risks of spit tobacco use, and helps users quit. OHA's NSTEP partnership with Little League is now in its ninth year of providing smokeless tobacco and oral health messages to the 325,000 people who attend the Little League World Series. A new partnership with the White Sox and star pitcher John Danks, a former spit tobacco user, allows OHA to update its NSTEP educational materials, which are sold to schools and health departments throughout the country.
- Smiles Across America®: This provides grant funding, technical assistance, and over 300,000 units of donated dental products to 97 school-based and school-linked treatment programs in 27 states, and reaches 250,000 children annually – and it's still growing. Since 1998, OHA has secured the delivery of one million dental sealants to children in need, meeting a commitment made to Colin and Alma Powell's America's Promise!
- Campaign for Oral Health Equity: This shines a spotlight on oral health in health-care policymaking, and encourages policies and programs that prioritize conditions of the mouth alongside other serious medical conditions to improve the health of all 300 million Americans. Through the Campaign, OHA works in partnership with oral health advocates, including child and family advocates, and organizations that strive to improve U.S. nutrition and tobacco policies.
OHA is looking forward to Fall for Smiles, part of their Campaign for Oral Health Equity, which is bringing the dental industry together with representatives of the profession to promote four key oral health messages. The primary partner in this campaign is the Dental Trade Alliance's Oral Healthcare Can't Wait, which is working with OHA on a public opinion survey of parents and youth that will kick off the campaign. The Fall for Smiles messages highlight the importance of self-care, regular dental visits, healthy food choices, and avoiding tobacco in maintaining a healthy mouth and body.
Those interested in keeping up with OHA can sign up for their e-newsletter at www.oralhealthamerica.org. Follow OHA on Twitter at "Smile4Health," and become a fan on Facebook. OHA can also be found on LinkedIn. Also, contact Melissa Hoebbel at [email protected] to find out how to join the Fall for Smiles campaign. (www.oralhealthamerica.org)
Christine Nathe, RDH, MS, is a professor and graduate program director at the University of New Mexico, Division of Dental Hygiene, in Albuquerque, N.M. She is also the author of "Dental Public Health" (www.prenhall.com/nathe), which is in its second edition with Prentice Hall. She can be reached at [email protected] or (505) 272-8147.
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