We know that oral health is an integral part of a child’s development and learning. Kids deserve to play, grow, and learn with a pain-free mouth. Through the years, Kentucky Youth Advocates has had the opportunity to work with several influential leaders, organizations, and businesses across the state to improve Kentucky kids’ oral health. As we celebrate our 40th birthday, we wanted to highlight some of the oral health wins for kids throughout the years.

Our work in the oral health arena began in 2004 with our  Kentucky’s Cavity: Parents Voice Concerns about Children’s Dental Care in their Communities  report. In this review, parents were given a chance to talk about their experiences in obtaining dental health services for their children in their communities. Because of these focus groups, we learned more about the barriers that Kentucky families face when trying to access dental care, including lack of transportation to dental offices, lack of dental coverage, and a shortage of dental care providers in some areas.

With our support, a bill ensuring children enrolling in kindergarten get a dental screening or exam to address oral health problems passed during the 2008 legislative session. The passing of this legislation helped spark conversation statewide surrounding the need for oral health reform and tangible oral health solutions.

In 2010, Kentucky Youth Advocates helped reinstate the Kentucky Oral Health Coalition (KOHC) to improve the oral health of all Kentuckians so every resident of the Commonwealth can enjoy optimal oral health. Today, KOHC is comprised of over 120 members with every region of the state represented. From dentists and managed care providers, to teachers and social workers, KOHC’s vision is to create a collaborative oral health movement designed to educate parents, activate policymakers, and inspire health professionals.

To continue to move the oral health needle forward, Delta Dental of Kentucky partnered with Kentucky Youth Advocates in 2016 to conduct the Making Smiles Happen: 2016 Oral Health Study of Kentucky’s Youth  report. Prior to this statewide study, the most recent children’s oral health survey was conducted in 2001, making it extremely difficult for oral health professionals to accurately gauge oral health problems in the Commonwealth. Now that we have a clear picture of the barriers that contribute to oral health inequities for Kentucky children, we can begin tackling the five recommendations the survey outlined that would improve oral health outcomes for kids in the state.

At the 2016 October Interim Joint Committee on Health and Welfare, we discovered there was a great deal of interest in the findings and even more interest in the action steps outlined in the report. Because of the Delta Dental of Kentucky study, we were able to secure the commitment of the Cabinet of Health and Family Services to update the state’s oral health plan, which will be unveiled in the Fall of 2017. This was a recommendation highlighted in the study.

Another recommendation was the launch of regional oral health networks to develop local, data-driven solutions. This past May, Delta Dental of Kentucky announced that they will be providing $1 million to launch five regional networks across the Commonwealth. These networks will engage diverse partners, including local business leaders, educators, and health professionals, to work together to solve oral health problems in their communities. The full scope and appointed leaders of each regional network will be revealed in the coming months.

Creating a healthy and bright future for Kentucky kids is a collective effort. Join us as we continue our work in the oral health arena for the next 40 years!

Follow along on our blog, Facebook, and Twitter to read more stories throughout the year about key wins, leaders, and advocates who have helped shape our past, present, and future.

Explore ways that you can learn, attend, and act to help Kentucky kids here: http://kyyouth.org/get-involved/.