Inside Kentucky Health
There is some good news when it comes to dental health in Kentucky, according to a new report from the Center for Health Workforce Studies at the University of Albany.
The study was financed in part by the Pew Charitable Trust and was compiled using interviews with stakeholders with an interest in oral health in Kentucky.
Margaret Langelier, the report’s project director, explained her findings in an appearance before the state’s House Health and Welfare Committee Feb. 25.
“Kentucky has made great strides in improving oral health and access to dental care but we still have a long way to go,” she told the politicians.
With the expansion of Medicaid, more than 425,000 Kentuckians were newly eligible for insurance to cover dental care. Another 100,000 people who purchased private health plans through that state’s health care exchange created a high demand for services throughout the state.
As a result, thousands of Kentuckians received dental services for the first time in 2014. This influx also created challenges for dental care providers to administer services, and some providers chose not to offer services to Medicaid patients.
With so many first-time patients, the study found, there was high demand for specialty services. Many of those eligible had to endure long waits or travel great distances for care. Still, having so many citizens getting dental care for the first time is good news for the state’s dental health.
This is not to say that Kentucky’s dental health has emerged from the bottom of the national rankings. The Commonwealth ranks second among states in the incidence of oral and pharyngeal cancers, and is fifth in the number of adults aged 65 or older who have had all their natural teeth extracted.
The study also found that certain groups of the population were less likely to have access to dental care, including children from unstable homes or living in poverty, pregnant women, and elderly individuals in nursing homes.
In addition, young people with poor nutrition habits and high soda consumption, along with those who use tobacco, are among groups more likely to suffer dental problems.
The study also found that geography can affect a person’s ability to get dental care. While there is an adequate number of dental professionals in metropolitan areas, parts of eastern and western Kentucky are facing critical shortages of dentists.
Mahak Kalra, policy director for the Kentucky Oral Health Coalition, said the report is an important piece for those focused on improving dental health in Kentucky.
“It paints a very clear picture of the oral health landscape in Kentucky. It will be used as a reference for Kentucky policymakers, government officials and health advocates.”