Guest Post by Dr. Jim Cecil, retired public health dentist and former State Dental Director
I’ve been a dentist, an oral health and public health professional, for more than 40 years and I have to be honest, I am fed up with the state of oral health among Kentucky’s kids. When I was a student dentist at the University of Kentucky, College of Dentistry in the late 1960’s, the oral health status of children was appalling to say the least – much like the status of kids in developing countries (i.e., Egypt, Indonesia, the African continent, South America) that I observed as a member of the United States Navy Medical Department in the 1970’s, 1980’s, & 1990’s
The fact is that oral health has not improved much since the 1960’s. I love this state but I am not content with the way things are. February is National Children’s Dental Health month and it’s the perfect time for Kentucky citizens, state leaders, and professionals to resolve, commit, and devote appropriate resources to make our kids, and by extension adults and elders, complete and whole.
The solution to our oral health crisis has to address the health needs of those who don’t have access to traditional avenues of care. Many states are looking at innovative ways of doing this. One example is the use of dental therapists, advanced dental hygienists which perform simple dental procedures in under-served areas in public health settings. Minnesota is training and using dental therapists in school-based clinics to address the oral health needs of children who are otherwise underserved. New Zealand, parts of Canada, the United Kingdom, and about forty other countries have successfully used the services of dental therapists safely, effectively and efficiently for decades and their children are in better oral health than some of our Kentucky children. In my opinion, Kentucky needs to join other states and nations to utilize the services of well trained, well supervised, and safe dental therapists right now.
I am also excited about a few other new initiatives and collaborations that could make a vast impact on oral health in Kentucky and across the United States. The U.S. National Oral Health Alliance is a group leading the nation in bringing diverse voices together to have an honest conversation about oral health. The Alliance is working hard to find common threads among diverse professions and interests and I have faith that they will make a difference.
On the state level, I’m involved in the newly revitalized Kentucky Oral Health Coalition, which is a group of concerned citizens, professionals, and advocates who are working together to find ways of improving the oral health across the state. The Coalition is focusing on oral health literacy, Medicaid, and school-based oral health services and they are making a difference. You can find out more information and become a member of the coalition at www.kyoralhealthcoalition.org.
While it’s hard for me to watch the status quo of oral health continue year after year, I am encouraged by the movement at the national and state level toward innovation, serving the underserved and finding common ground. But in order for us to improve, we must all commit to making a difference in oral health today. Let National Children’s Dental Health month spur you to get involved and make a difference on oral health.