Oregonians will vote next month on the future of their false teeth, and, appropriately enough, it involves a biting, grinding campaign and many quivering jaws.
Measure 5 on the Nov. 7 statewide ballot would make Oregon the first state to permit the fitting and selling of false teeth by someone other than a dentist.
Proponents of Measure 5 say their aim is simple: to take the bite out of the bite. That is to reduce the cost of dentures to the public.
But the national implications of Measure 5 are such that most of the country's 130,000 dentists do not see it a laughing matter.
The American Dental Association, which represents them, has funneled at least $300,000 into a campaign to defeat Measure 5 and more money is on the way.
ADA, a spokesman said, is worried that if Oregon becomes the first state to take denture-fitting and selling control from dentists, other states likely will follow suit.
"The association has provided some financial assistance to the campaign, consistent with our concern for the health of the public," ADA's spokesman said.
"Any time the consumer is taken advantage of, we are concerned."
But in the view of the advocate of Measure 5 - a coalition of Oregon senior-citizen and consumer groups - the only advantage being taken in the false-teeth business is by the dentists.
"If we are ever going to lower the outrageous cost of dentures, we will have to have more competition. We would just eliminate the dentist as middleman," said Ron Wyden, codirector of the Oregon Gray Panthers in Portland.
Measure 5 supporters think that dentures purchased from denturists, as they are called, would cost no more than $300. Provided by dentists, they cost between $600 and $2,000 in Oregon, Wygen said.
The Gray Panthers - a senior-citizen organization - has ramrodded the fight to change the Oregon law to allow denturists to deal directly with the public.
"We want the patient to have the freedom to choose, whether to get their false teethfrom a technician or from a dentist," Wyden said.
Oregon has been debating the denturist issue since 1973, when the legislature toyed with the idea of changing the law. Hearings were held in 1975 and 1977, but no changes occured.
Senior-citizen groups, unhappy with the high cost of dentures, organized and collected more than 60,000 signatures - enough to put the issue on next month's ballot.
The law change would allow state-licensed denturists to take impressions, build, fit and repair dentures for any patient. It would establish licensing requirements for the technicians, but not remove dentists from the procedure entirely.
It would required that all patients have statements from dentists or physicicans that the patient's mouth is free of disease and suitable for dentures.
The opposition, calling itself the Committee to Vote No on 5, ranging from dentists and doctors to druggists and optometrists, insurance companies and dental laboratories,has responded with an intensive advertising campaign.
Radio and television ads and bill-boards around the state urge Oregonians: "Don't Let Amateurs Replace Dentists."
Ken Rinke, a Portland political campaign publicist, is heading the opponents' drive. He, like the ADA spokesman, stressed that the dentists concern is not the money they might, lose but rather their patients' welfare.
"The quarrel is not about who makes the dentures," Rinke said. "It's the working inside the patient's mouth that we are concerned about."
"Oregon has very high health's standards and it is a fear of a general tendency to lower standards. We are satisfied that denturists won't be trained or recognize oral cancer and mouth cysts," he said.
"At first blush, the measure seems to have some merit. They talk about freedom of choice. This bewilders me. We have 1,500 dentists here. Plenty of freedem."