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A new report highlights findings of a 2016 oral health study of Kentucky’s youth. (Photo: U of L School of Dentistry)
Oct 20, 2016 | News USA

Access to care in Kentucky has increased, yet children face pressing needs

by Julie Heflin, U of L School of Dentistry

LOUISVILLE, Ky., USA: Access to oral health care has increased since 2001, yet more children face urgent dental needs, according to a new study co­released by Delta Dental of Kentucky and Kentucky Youth Advocates. The report, titled “Making Smiles Happen: 2016 Oral Health Study of Kentucky’s Youth,” presents findings of the first oral health surveillance study of Kentucky children in 15 years.

The report was released during the Interim Joint Committee on Health and Welfare in Frankfort, Ky.

“We are proud to support this initiative because we firmly believe that the well‐being of our children is the key to the future health and success of our families, communities and businesses,” said Dr. Clifford Maesaka, president and CEO of Delta Dental of Kentucky. “Data is the only real tool to level set with respect to oral health. In order to improve, we need to know where we’re starting. If we know where we are, we can measure improvement. That is what this surveillance project is all about.”

Delta Dental of Kentucky partnered with Kentucky Youth Advocates and the University of Louisville School of Dentistry through Delta Dental of Kentucky’s charitable initiative, Making Smiles Happen, to conduct the statewide survey of children’s oral health.

“We know that what gets measured gets changed. This study provides an overdue picture of children’s oral health in Kentucky that can be used by leaders in our state to create positive oral health change,” said Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates.

To carry out the study, a dentist from the University of Louisville visited 60 schools across five regions of the state to observe the mouths of third and sixth graders. The study also asked parents about family oral health history, resulting in the collection of data for over 2,000 students.

“It was a privilege for the University of Louisville School of Dentistry to serve as a partner on this project,” said Dr. Theresa Mayfield, associate dean for clinical affairs, U of L School of Dentistry. “We understand how new data can shape our evidence-­based practice as we seek to meet the oral health needs of Kentuckians, and educate the next generation of dental professionals.”

The report highlights the following findings from the oral health study:

  • More third and sixth graders are in need of early or urgent dental care since 2001, though more parents report their children having dental insurance and access to a dentist.
  • Two out of five third and sixth graders have untreated cavities.
  • Despite a 14 percent increase in the number of third and sixth graders with a dental sealant on a permanent molar between 2001 and 2016, more than half of third and sixth graders did not have at least one dental sealant on a permanent molar during the 2015­16 school year.
  • The third and sixth graders eligible for free or reduced lunch (more than half of students in the study) were more likely to have recently experienced a toothache, have visited a dentist more than a year ago, have untreated decay, or to be in need of urgent dental care.

The report notes differences in the findings by region, race and socioeconomic status. Where comparable, the report also mentions differences in the findings from the 2001 oral health study conducted by the Kentucky Department for Public Health and the University of Kentucky.

Other partners who collaborated and provided input on the study and present at today’s release include the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, Kentucky Oral Health Coalition and the Kentucky Department for Public Health.

“When kids have toothaches, it is harder for them to concentrate and learn in school. This study provides important information to educators about what might be getting in the way of a student’s success,” said Dr. Tom Shelton, president of the Kentucky Association of Superintendents.

The report makes several recommendations that can move the needle on the oral health status of Kentucky children, including:

  • Develop goals and objectives for a comprehensive, statewide oral health plan.
  • Launch regional networks to develop local, data-­driven oral health solutions.
  • Establish school­based sealant programs in all high-needs schools.
  • Promote oral health literacy campaigns.
  • Regularly collect state and county­level oral health data.

“As oral health advocates from across the state, the findings will guide our work to address the pressing oral health needs facing Kentucky. The recommendations will help bring more stakeholders together to improve the oral health outcomes of all Kentuckians, especially the youngest,” said Dr. Laura Hancock Jones, chair of the Kentucky Oral Health Coalition.

Delta Dental of Kentucky’s next step is to work collaboratively to address the report findings. “We are turning data into information and that information into action. It is going to take all of us to create the kind of change we at Delta Dental of Kentucky are committed to moving the oral health needle forward. In the coming months, we will be working with local leaders to begin a movement on oral health across the state by partnering and investing locally. Today’s report is an important first step, so stay tuned,” added Maesaka.

The complete report, including information about how you can be involved, can be found at KentuckyOralHealth.com.


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