This post originally appeared in Insider Louisville on March 24, 2016. Read “Oral Health Project Aims to Screen Thousands of Kentucky Children to Help Improve Quality of Care” online here.

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Kids with good oral health are likely to do better in school than those with bad oral health. Few would dispute that statement, or argue with the fact that a child with a toothache will struggle to concentrate on their studies.

That’s why a new initiative designed to measure oral health is so important for Kentucky educators. The statewide oral health surveillance project launched late last year will screen approximately 6,000 third- and sixth-graders in 60 counties across the Commonwealth, providing essential data for assessing the oral health of Kentucky’s youth.

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Dr. Charles Tritle conducted the first official oral health screenings to kickoff the Delta Dental Making Smiles Happen Surveillance Initiative at Bullitt Lick Middle School.

Delta Dental of Kentucky’s “Making Smiles Happen” charitable initiative is sponsoring the survey, and the University of Louisville’s School of Dentistry is a partner in the program and is conducting the screenings. A parent questionnaire is also a part of the survey.

“We know that what gets measured gets changed,” says Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates (KYA). “Current data helps highlight the extent of issues facing Kentucky children and helps us know when we’re moving the needle in the right direction.”

The survey, which is the first statewide oral health survey conducted on Kentucky children since 2001, will be completed this fall.

The survey could help make sure that kids get a healthy dental start in life.

“We firmly believe that the well-being of our children is the key to the future health and success of our families, communities, and businesses,” said Delta Dental President Dr. Cliff Maesaka. “Data is the only real tool to level set with respect to oral health. In order to improve, we need to know where we’re starting. If we know where we are, we can measure improvement. That is what the surveillance project is all about.”

Making Smiles Happen_boyMahak Kalra, policy director for the Kentucky Oral Health Coalition, said the screenings are about halfway finished, and schools in Eastern and Central Kentucky will have their screenings completed in April and May.

“We are deeply grateful to the Delta Dental Foundation of Kentucky for making this project possible. We are also so grateful to all the superintendents who understand the importance of collecting this data, and have allowed us to come into their schools,” she said. “They know the value this kind of effort will have for not just their own kids, but for all children statewide.”

The data will be analyzed this summer and the new report will be issued by Kentucky Youth Advocates later this year.

The organizations participating in the program include the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, the Kentucky Dental Association, the Kentucky Department of Public Health: Oral Health Division, the Kentucky Dental Hygienist Association, the Kentucky Oral Health Coalition, Kentucky Youth Advocates, the Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative, and both the University of Louisville and University of Kentucky Schools of Dentistry.

By Health Reports