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Taking a bite out of ASPSU’s dental plan

I love change and admire greatly people working for change. However, the people I admire are those working for positive change. Those addicted only to negative change make me feel sneeringly superior.

Negative change belongs to the whiners. You can tell a negative change campaign because it relies on such negative commands as “stop” like in “stop corporate dominance.” It also likes “eliminate,” as in “Eliminate animal testing.” Or “abolish,” as in “Abolish race prejudice.” “End hunger” provides another example of a negative command masquerading as a rallying cry. All these have one enduring quality. They can never happen or if they do, the results can prove counterproductive. But they do provide the complainers with endless campaign material.

“Save the whales” represents what can happen to a whiner campaign that doesn’t consider all the influences at work. The campaign was so successful at saving whales that the gray whale is now overpopulated and dozens are dying of starvation every year, their emaciated carcasses washing up on the beaches. The whale savers didn’t take into account that the gray whale, and some other whales, have no teeth and can’t roam the entire ocean eating fish. They’re confined to what they dredge up from the ocean floor in shallow waters.

On the other hand, I feel brimming with good cheer at two expressions of predominantly positive calls for change. They came from two of our prominent student personalities. One is Mary Cunningham, student body president, leading her team in a five-point involvement program. The other, in a Vanguard editorial Jan. 11, does contain one “stop” but its goal gets expressed in a positive manner.

The editorial takes the form of New Year’s resolutions and some of it verges on the tongue in cheek, such as “learn how to tell time” by those varying campus clocks, and “buy the entire faculty and staff watches” so they start and end classes on time. The one seemingly negative, but actually positive, resolution was “stop exploiting the extreme poverty of our teaching assistants.” I have been surprised that our teaching assistants have not unionized, as they have at some other Oregon universities. The professors and the classified staff enjoy the protection of unionization and I can see that graduate assistants could use some organizational protection. Yet, I have been surprised to hear one teaching assistant say she is perfectly happy with the way she is treated and sees no need for any changes.

Regarding the other call for change, PSU currently has a medical health clinic on campus, staffed with physicians and nurses. Students are covered under a health insurance plan. The university is not about to build a dental clinic on campus. This means any such dental plan would have to work in cooperation with outside facilities, perhaps at Oregon Health and Science University.

Just as with the current medical, this would involve a dental insurance plan. That, in turn, means a necessary increase in the compulsory student health fee. I can’t see students welcoming any such increase, especially in these tight times. Further, there are students who would not want to quit their current, perhaps long-time, dentists, in favor of a dental student on the hill.

Beyond that, dental care resembles a totally different animal from medical care. In medical care, you’re sick, you go in, the doctor discovers you have the flu, or impetigo, or pinkeye. You get treatment and hopefully are cured.

Dental care, by contrast, demands a wide range of patient preferences and options. I can see benefits in a basic student plan that provides a minimum service, let’s say one tooth cleaning and inspection a year, period. No fillings, no extractions, no tooth straightening, no special remedial and prevention treatment.

But is that what students want, or need? Suppose the plan does provide for actual remedial dental work? Suddenly, the student’s preferences come into play. Those preferences can cover a wide range of expense to the dental plan. Shall this rotten tooth be drilled out and filled? What kind of painkiller? Some people can’t stand needles. Do they get the more expensive “sedation dentistry?” And if the tooth is filled, what will it be filled with? Will it be some compound that contains mercury? (Almost certainly not, but some people voice that fear about fillings.) If the tooth is too far gone to be filled, should it get a crown? Should the crown be the less-expensive and less cosmetic stainless steel? Or the much more expensive porcelain?

Or perhaps the tooth is so far gone it needs to be extracted. What then? An expensive bridge? A partial plate? Or should there simply be left a gap in the teeth? Maybe gum disease has progressed so far that all the teeth need to come out. Does the student get university-paid dentures? Should the plan go so far as to cover teeth straightening, would it be metal mouth or the more attractive, but, I am confident, more expensive “invisible” gadgetry?

A dental plan is not like the typical medical plan, where you have a personal care physician and that physician takes overall charge of your medical problems, including what specialists you may be referred to.

What I’m saying is, student government has its heart in the right place when it yearns for dental care, but the practical problems put dental care into a completely different arena from medical care.

One of the Vanguard’s wishes I especially endorse is the wish for a real gym for students, like they have at other Oregon universities. I used to work out at Stott Center but I gave it up. Short and staggered hours when exercise is permitted, not available on weekends, inadequate equipment and total deference to athletic department priorities were some of the obstacles I found intolerable.

Anyone interested in working for student government’s positive goals will find a ready welcome within its offices in the basement of Smith Memorial Center. Mary Cunningham and her folks are almost unrealistically friendly and dedicated. As for the wish list in the Vanguard, sorry, we’re just too consumed with putting out four papers every week, papers we hope readers find informative and, at times, entertaining. At the moment we haven’t got the time or energy to physically change the world. That comes later.