Oral health grant for 25,000 Appalachian children should be beginning of statewide effort, Al Smith says

In an op-ed piece, veteran Kentucky journalist Al Smith praised the recent announcement that 25,000 Eastern Kentucky children in 16 counties will receive preventive dental care this school year.

The project, funded by a $1 million grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission and $250,000 in state funds, will involve painting the teeth of those children with a special varnish that prevents tooth decay. As co-founder of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and former federal cochair of the ARC, Smith has pushed long and hard for the improvement of oral health in Kentucky.
He spoke of the grant announcement in conjunction with discussions of the continued $900 million expansion of the University of Kentucky‘s Chandler Medical Center. “Obviously, the bricks and mortar go to serve extremely important life saving and health purposes, but the ARC pilot treatments of children’s teeth should persuade all Kentuckians that this care is essential for every county,” he wrote.
The project is called Healthy Smiles and was announced by Gov. Steve Beshear last week. “Over the course of 2011-2012 school year, two protective fluoride tooth varnish treatments and educational materials for healthy dental practices will be offered to children in the first through fifth grades at selected schools,” Smith summarized.
Counties that will benefit from the project are Bell, Breathitt, Clay, Elliott, Floyd, Harlan, Jackson, Knott, Knox, Lee, Magoffin, Menifee, Owsley, Perry, Russell and Wolfe.

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues told Beshear about Kentucky’s serious oral health deficits when he was running for governor four years ago, Smith said in his op-ed piece. That assessment showed “that half of Kentucky’s children had decay in their baby teeth; and nearly half of children ages, 2, 3, and 4 had untreated dental problems,” Smith wrote.
Cavities and loss of teeth create problems in later life, Smith asserted. He referred to statements made by Dr. Steve Davis, interim commissioner of public health, who said Kentuckians looking to join the military may be turned away if they have a mouthful of oral health problems: “The Navy, particularly, takes seriously the warning that a sailor stricken by a toothache in the depths of the sea could mishandle a task on a sub and send the craft plunging to the bottom.” For a Word version of Smith’s op-ed, click here.
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