A new initiative is taking a personalized approach to addressing the unmet oral health-care needs of Kentucky kids.
The 2016 Oral Health Study of Kentucky's Youth found that while the state has made strides in improving dental care for children, more progress is needed.
Delta Dental of Kentucky and Kentucky Youth Advocates are teaming up to launch five regional networks to develop localized dental-care solutions.
Tammy York-Day, Delta Dental's chief operating officer, says the networks will include business leaders, educators and health professionals working together.
"We have the stakeholders and centers of influence in each of the regions who can look and know and live in those communities and see the challenges that face them, and they are going to make recommendations based on what is important in their region," she explains.
The study of third and sixth graders found an increase in those who need of early or urgent dental care, and two out of five have untreated cavities. Delta Dental is providing $1 million to launch the regional networks.
Dr. Laura Hancock Jones with the Kentucky Oral Health Coalition explains that dental-health needs vary greatly depending on socio-economic status and region of the state.
She says it's harder to access dental care in some areas, so they'll be examining ways to expand opportunities such as school-based dental programs.
"The best place for a child to receive dental care is in a dental home but that is nearly impossible in our state with such distribution issues," Dr. Hancock Jones says. "There are ways that we can work together with existing resources to improve the oral health for Kentucky."
York-Day notes oral health care is more than a pretty smile or a toothache; it's a critical part of overall health.
"We've seen tragedies," she adds. "Gingivitis entering the bloodstream can negatively impact and cause more premature births. We've seen brain tumors that were caused by infections that were left untreated. There's a link between periodontal disease and heart disease. So oral health is the gateway to looking at your overall health."