IRHMapTooth decay continues to rank as one of the most prevalent chronic childhood diseases, especially in the state of Kentucky.  The Institute for Rural Health at Western Kentucky University completed a cross-sectional study in 2013, focusing on two main objectives in the bluegrass state: to assess socio-demographic differences between children affected and unaffected by decay, and to investigate the factors associated with the lack of treatment of this chronic condition. The Institute for Rural Health used mobile dental clinics to provide a school based sealant program to children between the ages of 6 and 15 and examined students’ teeth while doing so.

Shockingly, approximately fifty percent of the students in the study displayed tooth decay with an average of two cavities.  Older children that lacked insurance and lived in rural areas had the highest percentages of tooth decay and the greatest severity.  These findings suggest that major interventions are needed to reduce risk factors for children facing oral health disparities in locations like South Central Kentucky.

So, what does this study mean for kids in Kentucky? It means that we need to work hard to ensure children in low-income families have health insurance that includes dental coverage and that they have easy access to a dental provider who accepts their health insurance. We already know Kentucky has a high rate of toothlessness and that Kentuckians living in rural areas often have inadequate insurance and access to care. We also know many programs such as KCHIP, SMILE Kentucky and others have increased the availability of oral health coverage and care. But we need to look at additional opportunities to further improve the oral health of children across the state. We invite you to join the Kentucky Oral Health Coalition as we identify and seize opportunities to improve oral health together.

Read the article with the complete Institute for Rural Health study here.