As February comes to an end, so does Children’s Dental Health Month 2019, but that doesn’t mean advocating for children’s dental health and maintaining good dental hygiene is not important all year round! One of the most important components of maintaining good overall health throughout our childhood and our adulthood is through establishing positive dental habits at an early age.

According to the 2016 Making Smiles Happen surveillance study, socioeconomic status is a major predictor for 3rd and 6th grader’s oral health. More than half of the youth surveyed were eligible for either free or reduced lunch, and they were found to more likely experience toothaches, untreated tooth decay, previous decay, and have not visited a dentist in over a year. Historically, Kentucky has struggled with poor oral health outcomes, and there’s an exciting opportunity that can help address barriers many families and children across the Commonwealth may face when it comes to accessing care.

In the Fall of 2018, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services Deputy Secretary Kristi Putnam shared their intention to amend the Medicaid State Plan to allow schools to tap into the Medicaid federal funding stream, so that qualified health professional can provide health services within the school setting. Research shows that when children experience health problems in the classroom, whether that be a toothache, asthma, or anxiety, it is difficult for them to concentrate and do well in school. Providing health services, such as school-based oral health prevention services, in the school setting can help address immediate or preempt potential oral health needs, connect students to dental health providers in the community, and keep students learning.

By leveraging these federal Medicaid dollars in schools and encouraging increased oral health literacy, providers, parents, educators, and members of our local communities can work together to help all Kentucky children establish good oral health habits and maintain healthy, happy smiles across their lifetime.