Kentucky Health News
LOUISVILLE, July 25 – There was no whitewashing the ruinous state of the state’s teeth Wednesday when the Kentucky Oral Health Coalition formally reorganized with the goal of fixing as much as they can as fast as it can. With almost a fourth of Kentuckians over 65 having complete tooth loss and almost half of children between 2 and 4 already having twice the national average of cavities, there is work to be done on every front.
As the state with the 49th worst-looking mouths in the country, explained Andrea Bennett, senior policy analyst for Kentucky Youth Advocates, “What we’re looking for is a few short-term wins.”
It appears that the top priority, as voted by the coalition’s members, is to improve oral health literacy and education. That means that members will be looking for ways – including maybe getting themselves a celebrity spokesperson – to explain what good oral hygiene is and how to get it.
Close behind in priorities will be efforts to expand school-based oral health services, including for those in Head Start and all child-care settings. Members also expressed a desire to increase the number of Kentucky dentists who accept Medicaid, thus expanding the numbers of those who can be treated.
How they do that is under discussion. The group, which existed a decade ago but lost momentum, has decided to revitalize into a more active, more inclusive, perhaps even more legislatively inclined group. It all depends on its new leadership, said Dr. James Cecil, a national leader in public health and a former University of Kentucky dental school professor.
Cecil, who now works with KYA, a nonprofit whose staff will handle a lot of the coalition’s workload, explained that
funding for the initial work of the group is expected to come from the
renewal of a grant from DentaQuest, a continuous source of funding for
Kentucky dental projects for three years. New programs, as drawn up by
and agreed to by the new executive committee elected Wednesday, will
seek other sources of funding through corporations and other grants,
Cecil said. In their current treasury is $20,000, left over from the old KOHC.
The coaltion is now chaired by Laura Hancock Jones, Western Kentucky Dental Outreach Program director in the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry’s Division of Public Health. A well-known and well-respected practicing pediatric dentist, she is self-described “passionate” advocate for education and literacy about oral health. She runs a program that provides a fluoride varnish on children as young as 2.
“I have seen how much we’ve done and it’s not been enough,” Hancock-Jones said. “We have not moved the needle.” The answer, she said, is “from the bottom. You have to talk to the kids.” In her own health-department experience, she dogged one family for three years, she said, through the school Family Resource and Service Center, social workers, and eventually the judicial system, to get their children care. Eventually, she did and “the kids are” getting care and thinking “It really is a good thing to go to the dentist.”
Members of the coalition include dentists, dental hygienists, insurance providers, public health officers, school nurses and students. Donna Ruley, executive director of the Kentucky Dental Hygienist Association, was elected secretary of the group Wednesday. She said she believes it’s important that her profession is at the table when talking about dental priorities and potential scope of job description legislation. “Our impact on education is huge,” said Ruley. “The legislature just recently passed a public-health hygienist role that would allow for a greater number of people to be taught prevention services without a dentist’s supervision.” That, she added, is a great need in a lot of far-flung rural reaches of the state.
The vice chair of the group is Linda Poynter of the Kenton County Health Department. The treasurer is Dr. Lee Mayer of the University of Louisville dental school.