Advocating for Dental Research
In February 2017, the IPPF joined the Friends of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (FNIDCR) Patient Advocacy Council (PAC). This group is made up of patient advocacy organizations whose patient members’ conditions and diseases include an oral component and have a stake in research supported by the NIDCR. The group is supported by the American Association for Dental Research (AADR).
The AADR and FNIDCR will hold an Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, February 27. Members and patient advocates will meet with members of Congress and Hill staff to advocate for dental, oral, and craniofacial research. They will emphasize how important investments in biomedical research and oral health programs are in impacting the people in their home states and beyond.
The IPPF had the pleasure of interviewing Lindsey Horan, AADR’s Assistant Director of Government Affairs about their 2018 Advocacy Day and important legislative issues.
IPPF: What is your goal for your advocacy day? What do you hope to achieve?
Lindsey Horan (LH): Our overarching goal for Advocacy Day is to educate on and raise awareness for dental, oral, and craniofacial research with members of Congress and congressional staff.
As oral research advocates and stakeholders, we know that oral health is integral to overall health, but it’s critical to stress that to the policymakers who are weighing competing priorities and are responsible for divvying up federal funds across government agencies and programs. The Hill visits our members conduct on Advocacy Day have the opportunity to demonstrate the far-reaching nature of oral health research and, most importantly, to share their personal stories—whether it is the story of a patient whose life has been impacted by an oral disease or condition, or a researcher whose work is positively shaping the trajectory of dental and oral care we provide in this country.
IPPF: Which legislative issues are of priority for the AADR/FNIDCR this year? Why are they important?
LH: Our legislative priorities for AADR and the Friends of NIDCR will be consistent with the priorities from 2017, and they largely relate to securing the highest possible federal funding for oral research and oral health programs. While this certainly includes the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), we also champion agencies whose work touches oral research in some capacity, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and its National Center for Health Statistics and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
Heavily focusing our legislative portfolio on appropriations is reflective of the fiscal and political environment in which we’re operating. Congress has to make difficult decisions about how to tackle a mounting federal debt and deficit, and we want to ensure that shortsighted cuts aren’t made in the name of savings. In the absence of our community speaking out—loudly—about these federal agencies and programs, lawmakers will see a win-win scenario: being able to cut funding with little to no pushback.
IPPF: What can those who are unable to attend Advocacy Day in DC do to advocate locally?
LH: There is so much that can be done locally—even from home—to champion oral research throughout the year.
First, it’s important to remember that members of Congress are not in Washington, DC, year round. They regularly return home to meet with their constituents, and these visits are great opportunities for people to voice their priorities or concerns. Sign up for your elected officials’ email listservs to learn about upcoming town halls or other events where you might have an opportunity to speak with them. At the end of the day, constituents are the people members of Congress want to hear from most!
Additionally, don’t underestimate the power of social media. Virtually all Senators and Representatives are active on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms—and they pay attention to them. While seemingly inconsequential, research has shown that it doesn’t take many Tweets on a given topic for staff to pay attention, especially if the Tweets come from constituents (and constituents should identify themselves as such in their Tweets).
IPPF: Do you have advocacy alerts or ways to stay updated throughout the year on important legislative issues?
LH: Absolutely. We want to make sure our community knows how developments at the federal level may impact our field and the research enterprise more broadly.
The first resource I would recommend is our Government Affairs & Science Policy Blog (http://ga.dentalresearchblog.org), which is regularly updated with advocacy and policy news. And to make it easy for readers, there is an option to subscribe to the blog, so new posts will come directly to your email. We also post information to our Twitter account (@DentalResearch). These are great places to learn about any new action alerts or opportunities for engagement.
There are also a number of opportunities available through AADR membership (http://www.iadr.org/AADR/Join-Renew/Join-Us) for those who want to further engage, such as the potential opportunity to serve on committees like our Government Affairs Committee and joining us on Capitol Hill for Advocacy Day.
IPPF: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
LH: I know people often shy away from advocacy for a variety of reasons—they worry about bringing politics into the workplace, they are put off by the term, or they don’t see the point. To this I would say:
- As an American citizen, you have a right to petition your government as outlined in the Constitution. It’s correct that many employers do have rules related to advocacy, but they do not prohibit you as an individual citizen from being able to advocate. To clarify what is and is not allowed, talk to the government or public affairs staff at your organization or institution.
- For those who don’t quite understand or are put off by the term “advocacy,” think of it as education. When you reach out to members of Congress, you are sharing your story, explaining your work, or demonstrating how a program is making a difference in your community. Members of Congress and congressional staff are grappling with information overload. Meeting with them provides an opportunity to share what you know so that they might better understand the issue and how it fits into their legislative priorities.
- Finally, advocacy does make a difference. While a phone call, a Tweet, or an email seem too small to be significant, they add up—and we have seen this demonstrated time and again. Just recently, a provision in the House’s first version of the tax bill calling to tax graduate students’ tuition waivers as income received so much pushback from the community that it was removed in the final legislation. Speaking up and speaking out matter!
A huge thank you to Lindsey Horan for taking the time to answer our questions!
IPPF Awareness Ambassador Coordinator, Bryon Scott, will attend Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill this year. We look forward to updating you on his experience and the outcome of his advocacy.