Dental Role Recognized in Disaster Response Law

On March 4, Congress cleared the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act (PAHPA) of 2013 for President Obama’s enactment by signature on March 13.  You may ask, “What does this law have to do with dentistry?”

This is the first time public law offered disaster response opportunity for dentists and dental facilities, a move which has long been advocated by the dental profession and by the ADA.

Congress moved quickly to reauthorize the medical disaster and emergency response legislation, which now includes ADA-backed dental emergency responder language.  The House of Representatives approved the PAHPA legislation by a 395-29 vote, and the Senate passed a unanimous consent on February 27.  Congress then cleared the legislation on March 4 for the president’s enactment signature.

In a brief statement, the White House press secretary said the law “revises authorities for activities to improve public health and bioterrorism emergency planning, preparedness and response.”  Preparedness and response activities “may include dental health facilities and dental health assets.”  The law was amended by striking “public health or medical” and inserting “public health, medical or dental” language.

The PAHPA  of 2013 makes it possible for dental professionals in public health emergencies, to participate in educational and training activities. It is up to the individual states discretion to include dentists and dental facilities in their public health emergency plans without mandating participation by dental personnel.

Dental personnel because of their general medical background, would readily fit into an all-hazards emergency response situation.  Many dental facilities could also be used as outpatient surgery centers and pharmaceutical storage and distribution sites for overwhelmed hospitals during a medical disaster.  This legislation will ensure that dental personnel will not be overlooked or underutilized during a mass medical disaster.