The Oregon Health Authority has hired a new director of its dental program. Dr. Kaz Rafia, who has 25 years of experience, started working Tuesday for the authority’s Health Policy and Analytics Division, state officials said. He’s the authority’s second dental director, replacing Bruce Austin, who worked at the agency from 2015 to 2020 and left to work as a clinical director for Capitol Dental Care.
“I am pleased to have Dr. Rafia join our team and know that he will serve an important role as we work towards eliminating health inequities in Oregon,” said Dr. Dana Hargunani, the authority’s chief medical officer, in a statement. “Further integrating oral health into our health care system is a high priority, and we believe he will bring great knowledge and passion to that work.”
The dental director’s job is broad and pays $152,220. It includes setting up the strategic direction of the authority’s so-called oral health roadmap, a plan that looks for ways to improve access to dental care and its quality. Officials and the dental director will look for ways to align the roadmap with the authority’s 10-year goal of eliminating health inequities. The job also includes providing expertise for the state’s dental programs, including services offered by Medicaid, and shaping metrics to guide dental care to ensure equitable access. As an example: Oregon aims to increase the number of children who receive dental sealants and other preventative oral health services.
Other dental metrics include oral health evaluations for adults with diabetes and oral health screenings for children within 60 days of entering the custody of Oregon Department of Human Services, the state agency that administers foster care.
In a statement, Rafia said he’s honored to join the agency and is eager to advance oral health care in the state.
“We know that good oral health care is largely synonymous with good overall health care, and the inequities that we see in this area must also be tackled with diligence and passion,” Rafia said.
Dental care is a key aspect of health care. Poor oral health is linked to a range of diseases from heart disease and dementia to rheumatoid arthritis and infertility. Also, dental providers are sometimes the first to catch many issues, like infections and cancer, early during a routine dental visit before they get worse and require expensive care.
Rafia has both international and local experience. He was director of operations for the nonprofit Partnership for International Medical Access-Northwest from 2007 until this May. That position entailed strategic planning and the deployment of aid and health care workers to Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Rafia also founded a dental practice in the Portland area in 2005. Prior to that, he was the clinical director for Kaiser Permanente’s dental clinic in Beaverton after working as an associate dentist at Kaiser. He also completed his dental residency at Oregon Health & Science University from 1997 to 1998.
He graduated from Ohio State University in 1997 with a doctor in dental surgery degree and received his master’s in business administration in 2020 from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign.
He’s currently pursuing a master’s degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health. He started that program in 2020 and expects to graduate in 2022.
You can reach Ben Botkin at [email protected] or via Twitter @BenBotkin1.