Serving Oklahoma’s Children: Dr. Leon Bragg

Recently, our very own Dr. Bragg, OHCA Chief Dental Officer was featured in an Executive Q&A with The Oklahoma. You can view the full Q&A here.

Ask anyone at OHCA about Dr. Bragg, and one thing is sure to come up very quickly: Dr. Bragg’s passion for the health of our SoonerCare members, in particular the nearly 550,000 children in the program, cannot be matched.

“It is evident to anyone who meets Dr. Bragg that our SoonerCare children are close to his heart as he goes about the day working to make things better for them,” OHCA Chief Communication Officer Ed Long said. “His caring comes through in every decision and action. I am proud to know him and thankful he is a member of our OHCA family.”

Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman

But what many at the agency and the public may not know is that Dr. Bragg has one of the most fascinating stories they’ll likely ever hear. An Oklahoma native, Dr. Bragg has worked very hard to get to his position as Chief Dental Officer and, despite his perfect smile and passion for healthy teeth, didn’t always have access to regular dentist visits.

“But I had a mean mother, who stayed after us to brush our teeth and always made sure we had toothbrushes and toothpaste,” Dr. Bragg said. “I didn’t go to the dentist until I was in college and having trouble with a molar. There was no dentist in Guthrie for black people, so I went to one in northeast Oklahoma City who gave me no other choice than to pull the tooth.”

Having wanted to be a dentist ever since, as a young child of six or seven, he found out from his grandmother that he was named after an uncle who had wanted to be a dentist, Dr. Bragg wasn’t about to let obstacles like limited finances and a dad that wasn’t so sure about him going to college get in his way.

“I didn’t go to the dentist until I was in college and having trouble with a molar. There was no dentist in Guthrie for black people, so I went to one in northeast Oklahoma City who gave me no other choice than to pull the tooth.”

“Initially, my father was against my going to college, because my two older brothers had started at Langston University, but quit to join the Air Force,” Dr. Bragg said. “He figured I’d do the same. But, my mother talked my father into letting me go, though he refused to pay a penny. I hauled hay to pay for my first semester, and through an 18-month work-study loan, worked as a janitor of the student union. When I could afford to, I roomed on campus. But when I couldn’t, I lived at home and would walk the 10 miles between Guthrie and Langston; 98 percent of the time, somebody would stop to give me a ride.”

After graduating college, Dr. Bragg worked as a dentist for 21 years, having taken over the practice of the same dentist that pulled his tooth while he was in college. He rented the building and equipment for the first two years, later working out a rent-to-own agreement. And maybe as a foreshadowing of his future at the agency, he always accepted SoonerCare — along with some non-traditional forms of payment.

Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman

“I accepted Medicaid my entire career, along with private insurance and cash. Some of my patients would bring me a pie or make me a cake as payment,” Dr. Bragg said. “My kids thought I was crazy. But, I just stepped out on faith and trusted that it would all work out — and it did. While I didn’t make a lot of money, I educated the population on the northeast side about the importance of dental health and I encouraged many a young person to follow his or her dreams; that they could be more than what people tell them.”

After selling his practice in 1999 after he’d started having lower back issues, Dr. Bragg taught at the dental college for five years before joining the Oklahoma Health Care Authority in 2004. In his 11 years here, he has already helped grow the number of dentists available to SoonerCare members from 340 to 1,412, and helped raise the number of children on SoonerCare receiving dental care to more than 20 percent over the national average.

“Some of my patients would bring me a pie or make me a cake as payment. My kids thought I was crazy. But, I just stepped out on faith and trusted that it would all work out — and it did. While I didn’t make a lot of money, I educated the population on the northeast side about the importance of dental health and I encouraged many a young person to follow his or her dreams; that they could be more than what people tell them.”

“Dr. Bragg is a legacy builder,” Nico Gomez, OHCA CEO said. “His presence and his leadership makes the agency stronger. He is leaving a trail of happier, healthier smiles impacting many generations.”