Oral Health Equity: How Does Data Play a Role?

Oral health disparities in Kentucky drive the work of the Kentucky Oral Health Coalition and its three workgroups. High cost of care, lack of prevention, and limited access to dental professionals remain among the top reasons Kentuckians historically have not maintained optimal oral health. But, how do we show the extent of disparities in the state? The answer is simple, yet can be complicated: data.

In a recent webinar presented by the DentaQuest South/Southeast Regional Oral Health Collaboration Team, Dr. Roderick King of the Florida Institute for Health Innovation and Dr. Kathy Phipps of the Association of State and Territorial Dental Directors (ASTDD) shared their insights into how to address oral health disparities and utilize available data sets. There are several national datasets available to illustrate oral health disparities, but there is a lack of up-to-date state and local data to increase awareness at those levels.

Dr. Phipps suggested looking at data about oral health outcomes and the factors affecting them. An example would be examining the relationship of dental caries–like cavities and tooth decay–and the person’s access to care and other risk factors. Collecting data at local and state levels arms advocates with information to identify at-risk populations and inform programs and policies.

Dr. King presented three steps to move from talk to action when addressing health disparities:

  • Demonstrate disparities exist by collecting and disaggregating data
  • Show people why it’s important through unified messaging
  • Use the data to advocate for change

The CDC offers an online resource that complies data from various surveys that includes many indicators available on the state level. As an example, one indicator measured the prevalence of oral health services at Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC). The United States’ prevalence in 2012 was 20.5 percent and Kentucky’s was 15.7 percent. These statistics should alert advocates that there is work to be done to increase the availability of oral health services in FQHC. As a result, KOHC has made this an issue area of interest.

As the saying goes, “What gets measured, gets changed.” Showing the link between disparities, equity, and quality can leverage change in the minds of the public. As advocates, we can utilize the available databases and other resources to measure oral health data points to not only provide evidence behind statements of disparity, but also to fuel policy change and program development across the state.

Additional resources:

National datasets with state level data:

  • National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH)

State level datasets:

  • Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS)
  • Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS)
  • Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS)
  • Basic Screening Survey (BSS)

Listen to the full webinar here.

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