“Don’t forget to brush your teeth.”
These are the words spoken by parents to young children as they go to bed, usually followed by “good night” or “sweet dreams.” It’s no wonder, considering all parents want to help their children keep their teeth clean and in good condition. Also, there’s no disputing the positive things that can result, including higher self-esteem and better overall health.
Many health care organizations spend time and effort helping parents find the time and resources for regular dental visits. Still, the reality is that some kids don’t visit a dentist on a routine basis. For dentists and other health care professionals in Kentucky, it’s been difficult to gauge how much progress is being made for our children.
Until recently, there had been no data available on oral health for Kentucky kids since the last time children were surveyed 15 years ago. Now, thanks to a partnership between Delta Dental of Kentucky, Kentucky Youth Advocates and the University Of Louisville School Of Dentistry, we have a current and reliable snapshot of the status of oral health in Kentucky’s children.
The Making Smiles Happen: 2016 Oral Health Study of Kentucky’s Youth results were released on Oct. 19, and action has already begun.
Through its Making Smiles Happen® initiative, Delta Dental collected valuable data by surveying more than 2,000 third- and sixth-grade students from across the Commonwealth. Dentists visited 60 schools across five regions, conducting physical exams and interviewing parents about family oral health history.
“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. “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.”
The results are eye-opening, and provide officials with a baseline for improving oral health outcomes in Kentucky. For example, compared with 15 years ago, a higher percentage of children are in need of early or urgent dental care, and two in five have untreated cavities.
In some parts of Kentucky, the need for dental services is vital. In western Kentucky, for instance, the study found that half of the children studied have untreated tooth decay. In eastern Kentucky, 20 percent need urgent dental care.
Despite more parents reporting having dental insurance, less than half of those studied were treated with dental sealants on a permanent molar. Children who receive free or reduced lunches at school were more likely to have recently experienced a toothache, have untreated decay, or to be in need of urgent dental care. It was also more likely for those students to have gone a year or more without a dentist visit.
The results provide significant information for dental care professionals, with the data being used as a tool to form new goals. Among the ideas moving forward from the study are:
- Launch regional networks to develop local, data-driven oral health solutions
- Establish school-based sealant programs in all high needs schools
- Promote oral health literacy campaigns
- Regularly collect state and county-level oral health data
“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,” said Dr. Maesaka. “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.”
For more information on the study, Making Smiles Happen: 2016 Oral Health Study of Kentucky’s Youth, please visit www.kentuckyoralhealth.com .