boy brushing teeth_croppedThe Center for Health Workforce Studies (CHWS) at the University of Albany has issued two reports concerning oral health in Kentucky.  The first report summarizes interviews conducted with oral health stakeholders across the state in order to better understand the barriers and facilitators to accessing oral health care services.  The second is a technical report consisting of an extensive literature review and an analysis of existing data, which is intended to identify current and past initiatives to improve access to care as well as the oral health status and outcomes of Kentuckians.

Both reports indicate that Kentucky has made great strides over the past several years to increase access to oral health care services and improve oral health. Here are oral health successes to note:

  • Overall, children in Kentucky are receiving more oral health services than in the past, this includes an increase in the percentage of Medicaid eligible children receiving preventative services.
  • The Northern Kentucky Health Department was the first in the state to provide school based oral health services and has successfully helped children to establish dental homes.
  • The Cumberland Family Medical Centers, a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), serves 17 counties at 46 clinic locations. The Centers’ mobile dental program partners with local dentists and schools to increase access to care.
  • The University of Kentucky College of Medicine and College of Dentistry’s mobile vans and fixed clinics have improved oral health and increased access to care for the populations they serve.

There is no doubt that Kentucky’s dedicated oral health advocates play a key role in these successes.  At the same time, despite the hard work of advocates, Kentucky still ranks poorly in regard to some oral health indicators.

According to the CHWS’s technical report:

  • Kentucky is second in the nation in the incidence of oral and pharyngeal cancers.
  • Kentucky is fifth highest in the U.S. for adults 65 or older who have had all of their natural teeth extracted.
  • Less than half of children insured through Medicaid received dental care in 2014.
  • In 2014, Eastern Kentucky had the lowest percentage of adults in all regions of the state who visited a dentist or dental clinic in the past year.

Though there are numerous factors that contribute to these poor oral health outcomes, CHWS reports that a lack of oral health literacy, a maldistribution of dentists and hygienists in rural areas, and limited financial resources to pay for care are primary contributors to poor oral health outcomes in Kentucky.

Finally, these reports help to develop a more holistic picture of oral health successes and challenges across the Commonwealth.  With this information in mind, oral health stakeholders can make more informed decisions about oral health needs, priorities, and advocacy issues.  Let’s keep building on the momentum of recent successes to ensure that Kentucky’s current oral health challenges are addressed!