State gives 5 health departments money for mobile dental-hygiene teams that will examine children at schools; 5 more next year

Using new money in the state budget, the state Department for Public Health has given five local health departments grants to launch mobile dental hygiene programs.

The one-year awards of $160,000 will pay for a full-time dental hygienist and assistant; portable dental equipment to set up two treatment areas; a transport vehicle and transportation costs; and dental supplies.

“Hundreds of thousands of children in this state don’t see a dentist regularly and many not at all,” Gov. Steve Beshear said. “The vast majority of both childhood and adult dental problems could be avoided through routine dental care and other preventive efforts.”

The hygienists and assistants will visit schools for “assessments, age-appropriate cleaning services, fluoride varnishes and dental sealants on permanent teeth for children at the beginning of the school year,” says a release from the Kentucky Press News Service. “They can also serve local day care centers and Head Start programs. Hygienists will work with parents to facilitate any needed follow-up care with a local dentist.”

The grants went to the Lincoln Trail District Health Department, which serves Hardin, LaRue, Marion, Meade, Nelson and Washington counties; the Purchase District Health Department, which serves Ballard, Carlisle, Fulton, Hickman and McCracken counties; the Pike County Health Department and the departments in Jessamine County, which will also serve Mercer County; and Lawrence County, which will also serve Martin County.

Three health departments – Madison County, the Barren River district, and the Northern Kentucky district – already have dental hygiene programs in place. Five more health departments are to get grants next year two for similar programs.

The legislature appropriated $1.2 million in the current fiscal year and $2.1 million in fiscal 2016 for the grants and other enhancements to the state oral health program, overseen by state dental director Julie W. McKee.

“Placing public health dental hygienists in the community where they can provide front-line support and services to our young people is a great leap forward in terms of not only being able to assess problems, but provide on-site cleanings and dental care,” McKee said.

Improving the oral health of Kentuckians is one of the goals of kyhealthnow, Beshear’s plan to improve Kentuckians’ health. It aims to reduce the percentage of children with untreated dental decay by 25 percent and increase adult dental visits by 10 percent.

Beshear has been more active on oral health than other recent governors. He launched an effort in 2009 to enroll all eligible children in state health insurance through the Kentucky Children’s Health Insurance Program and Medicaid; authorized the “Healthy Smiles Kentucky” initiative, which includes training for general dentists on how to care for young patients; community oral health coalitions; and started the “Smiling Schools” program, which provided free protective tooth varnishes to school children in first through fifth grades in 16 Appalachian counties.

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