Julianne MalveauxOp-EdOpinion

MALVEAUX: Dental Care in the Black Community

From the time I was a little girl, to just a day or so ago, someone has always told me to watch my mouth. Why? My mouth runs and sometimes it runs unplugged. I’ve been known to flim-flam folks with flattery or eviscerate them with evil, sometimes moving from one to the other with just a shrug of my shoulders. But my “mouth-watching” is not the kind of mouth-watching I’m writing about in this column. I’m writing about the healthy mouth-watching that is critical to our health.

Nearly a hundred folks gathered at the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) headquarters at 633 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in D.C. to hear two dynamic women talk about dental health. Dr. Diane Earle, the managing dental director at Kool Smiles, in Lancaster, Texas, talked about dental health and its importance. Your mouth, she said, is the gateway to your body, so it is important for you to take care of it by getting regular checkups, taking care of your mouth and, especially, ensuring that children have early dental care as soon as they have even a single tooth. She was joined by healthy-living expert Debra Peek Haynes, who is passionate about the way we eat and how what we eat can transform our lives.

These two women held an audience for an hour, focusing on the many ways we can improve our lives so that we can better resist these oppressive political times. There was talk of the ways we can eat better, exercise better, and live better, with both Dr. Earle and Mrs. Haynes presenting as great examples of healthy living. Dr. Earle, for example, said she had never had a cavity in her life. Deb Haynes (whose husband, the Rev. Frederick Douglass Haynes III, has expertly pastored Friendship West Baptist Church in Dallas) shared the ways she used healthy eating to turn her health around after a diagnosis of infertility. I was thrilled to bring the women together and to moderate a discussion that had significant meaning for our community.

NCNW, under the transformative leadership of Attorney Janice Mathis (who led Rainbow PUSH’s Atlanta office until she came to Washington), is the only space owned by Black people on Pennsylvania Avenue. It is close enough to the “People’s House” at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue that one might walk there, which perhaps means that it is close to the devil. That proximity offers an opportunity for resistance, and while much of our resistance must be political, some of it hinges on our personal commitment to a physical excellence that prepares us to have resilience for the struggle.

Even as we met, the devil was busy. The House of Representative passed the new “tax overhaul” package that they say will create jobs, but we know will create wealth for billionaires; to benefit the top one percent, the bottom 80 percent will be hit hard, but Congress doesn’t seem to care. The Senate has a version of the legislation, and the two houses will have to come up with compromise legislation, but both the House and the Senate agree that corporations should pay less tax.

At NCNW, we talked about Congresswoman Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) and her Action for Dental Health Act (HR 2422). The bipartisan legislation, co-sponsored with Republican Indiana dentist and Congressman Mike Simpson, would make dental care more accessible, but with issues like these having low priority in this ideologically divided Congress, it is not likely to even make it to the floor for a vote. Instead, the new tax law would weaken, not strengthen, health care access.

Dental care and nutrition issues don’t get as much visibility as Russia, or sexual harassment, or jiving Jeff Sessions. But they are also important issues. So when we “watch our mouth” by watching what we eat and how we manage our dental care, we are strengthening ourselves for the inevitable struggle against the inequality that is part of the status quo.

Malveaux’s latest book, “Are We Better Off?: Race, Obama and Public Policy,” is available via amazon.com.

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