The 2011 County Data Book, released today by Kentucky Youth Advocates finds that Kentucky has made progress in ensuring low-income children receive dental services, yet much work remains to improve children’s oral health in the state.

This is the 21st annual release of the County Data Book, part of the Kentucky KIDS COUNT project. The KIDS COUNT project monitors progress for Kentucky’s one million children on over 100 measures of child well-being, including health, safety, economic well-being, and education. This year’s book focuses on key state and county-level measures of children’s health.

Oral Health Needs High in Kentucky

An opening essay incorporating input from some twenty Kentucky-based experts outlines improvement efforts underway in Kentucky and offers recommendations for next steps to change the oral health landscape. Kentucky has made some progress, seen by the increase in children enrolled in the Kentucky Children’s Health Insurance Program (KCHIP) or Medicaid who received dental services — from 38 percent in 2001 to 57 percent in 2010. However, the state recently received a “C” grade for its ability to provide oral health care to children and nearly one in three Kentucky children suffer from problems like cavities and bleeding gums.

Poor oral health is linked to diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and cardiovascular disease. Additionally, children with poor oral health care experience higher rates of emergency room visits, higher absentee rates from school, and less promising job prospects as adults compared to children who receive needed oral health care.

Pregnancy and Birth Outcomes Moving in the Wrong Direction

Six of the ten featured health indicators in the 2011 County Data Book focus on infant health, as a healthy beginning in life is vital to future growth, development, and health. Compared to the 2004-2006 time period, the earliest comparable data, fewer pregnant women in the state are receiving early and regular prenatal care. Also, compared to nearly a decade ago, more babies are being born preterm and at low birthweight. While Kentucky has experienced a slight decrease in the percentage of women smoking while pregnant, it still has the highest rate in the nation, with one in four pregnant women smoking at some point during pregnancy. Positive trends include gradually increasing rates for early breastfeeding initiation and a teen birth rate back on the decline after an unexpected uptick in 2006.

More Children have Health Coverage, New Managed Care System Brings Changes

The other featured health indicators include the number of children enrolled in the Kentucky Children’s Health Insurance Program (KCHIP) and Medicaid, childhood asthma hospitalizations, and two new indicators: early childhood obesity and access to recreational facilities. The numbers of children enrolled in KCHIP and Medicaid have significantly jumped over the last decade, due to a combination of more children qualifying for participation and improved outreach efforts.

A complete copy of the 2011 County Data Book can be found online here, and a state fact sheet can be found here. The data from this year’s book, as well as updated data on indicators of economic well-being, education, and safety, can be found online on the KIDS COUNT Data Center here.

Order hard copies of the 2011 Kentucky KIDS COUNT County Data Book and the 2011 National KIDS COUNT Data Book here.