New Picture (13)The last eight months have been eventful for the Kentucky Oral Health Coalition, which is a project of Kentucky Youth Advocates. In May we received the Oral Health 2014 DentaQuest planning grant and began the groundwork for developing a statewide oral health literacy campaign by conducting focus groups across the state, collecting information from oral health providers, and holding four stakeholder meetings.

We traveled around the state and visited with parents in Campbell, Graves, Hopkins, Jefferson, Knott, Owen, and Simpson Counties. We met with seventy-four parents who were asked to share their beliefs, practices, and challenges associated with their family’s oral health. Their feedback was insightful, and some of their comments have had a lasting impression. For instance:

  • Parents described the personal sacrifices they made for their children’s benefit. One Kentucky mom said “I get mine (teeth) pulled and suffer the consequences so that he can have nice teeth.”
  • Parents also expressed concerns related to dental insurance and out-of-pocket payments.
  • Many moms expressed frustration when it came to getting their children to brush their teeth two times a day for a full two minutes.
  • Parents in rural counties faced issues related to a lack of pediatric dentists in the area. One parent said, “Well if you’ve got the medical card there is only one dentist here that will take that and they aren’t very good with children. They’d be better with someone that wants to do what they say.”

After the focus groups were complete, KOHC designed a survey for dental health professionals, school educators, and family resource center personnel. The survey focused on providers’ knowledge and beliefs, education practices, and helpful resources that would aid in developing an oral health literacy campaign. We had over 350 providers fill out the survey revealing that dentists use a variety of methods to educate patients about oral health. Some of these included counseling, free dental care products, and prevention strategies.  We asked the survey respondents to provide one word to describe their vision for oral health in Kentucky, and we heard thoughts like improved, better, and challenging.

As a second year public health graduate student, I learned a lot being a part of this project.  At first I assumed the problem was due to lack of oral health knowledge. The focus groups opened my eyes to all the other barriers related to cost, insurance, and access that people must overcome to achieve optimal oral health. The focus groups and provider survey feedback made me aware of the need for improved and comprehensive oral health literacy throughout our state.

We could not have done this without the help of a lot of passionate stakeholders in Kentucky: Avesis Incorporated, Barren River District Health Department, Coventry Cares of Ky, Cumberland Family Medical Center, Family Health Centers Incorporated, Government Strategies LLC, HealthPoint Family Care, Home of the Innocents, KY Board of DentistryKY Dental Hygienists’ Association, KY Department for Public Health ,KY Primary Care Association ,Louisville Water Company, NKY Independent District Health DepartmentPassport Health Plan, Sarrel Dental and Eye Centers, School Smiles, Smile Kentucky, Three Rivers District Health Department, University of Kentucky College of Dentistry Dental Outreach, and University of Louisville School of Dentistry.

Want to get involved? KOHC is made up of dentists, dental hygienists, health advocates, health educators, and insurance provider personnel to name a few. We have two active work teams: 1. Expanding school-based oral health and 2. Increasing oral health literacy. These work teams convene quarterly in person or via telephone to discuss planning the oral health literacy campaign. The priorities of these work teams are to improve oral health literacy and education and expanding school-based oral health services including Head Start and child care settings.

To join the Kentucky Oral Health Coalition work groups click here, connect with us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter (@KYOralHealth).