‘Back to normal’ should include ‘Back to the dentist,” and remind us of oral health’s importance to overall health, providers say

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By Stephanie and Linda Poynter

Like many Kentuckians, we are eager for a summer of “back-to-normal” activities — backyard barbecues with neighbors, family trips to our favorite state parks, and evenings at the county fair.

One big “back-to-normal” activity for families across the commonwealth this summer is reviewing that ever-growing back-to-school checklist. As a dentist and dental hygienist and committed members of the Kentucky Oral Health Coalition, we are encouraging you to make sure scheduling a dental check-up for you and your family is at the top of that list!

With Covid-19 guidelines shifting, many dental practices are back up and safely running as usual, though some are currently serving a lower patient volume than prior to the pandemic. Whether you are looking for a new dental provider or returning to your community dentist, now is the time to schedule a check-up. Not only will the provider examine your teeth, gums, and mouth for any concerns, they will advise on preventive practices, screen for oral cancer, and recommend treatment for any dental problems.

Caring for your teeth and having routine dental check-ups are critical for optimal oral health and overall health — for those little ones celebrating their first tooth to those older adults mitigating tooth loss. In fact, oral health is often described as the gateway to overall health as gum disease is linked with other health problems, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, for example. And for children, a healthy, pain-free mouth makes it easier to focus and listen, play and learn, and grow and thrive.

You and your family can practice preventive dental care at home between check-ups by:

  • Brushing your teeth for two minutes, twice a day.
  • Flossing your teeth once a day.
  • Limiting sugary drinks and choosing fluoridated tap water.
  • Replacing your toothbrush every three or four months and after an illness.

While this checklist may seem simple, a reality remains in which disparities persist throughout the oral health system. Factors like cost barriers to accessing care, utilization of dental care, and the racial makeup of the dental workforce impact the oral health outcomes – and daily lives – of many Kentuckians, especially for our communities of color. The American Dental Association findings show that 15 percent of those in need of dental care did not obtain it citing financial and insurance coverage reasons as the top barriers.

To support student oral health, many school districts in Kentucky partner with their local health departments to provide school-based oral health education and preventive dental services right in the schools. These services are normally provided at no cost to the families who qualify, and the programs work directly with the schools and local dental providers to ensure that needed dental treatment is done and your child’s good oral health restored.

Ensuring equitable access to dental care, health coverage, safe drinking water, and nutritious food are at the bedrock of improving the oral health of every Kentuckian. We are reassured in these efforts as we’ve seen new investments being made both federally and at the state level to expand access to safe drinking water and nutritious food across the commonwealth through the American Rescue Plan Act dollars allocated to Kentucky.

We must continue to strengthen investments and programming that support optimal oral health, including oral health education campaigns, regular collection of state and county-level oral health data, and adequately funding Medicaid to ensure all Kentuckians can access the oral health and preventive healthcare they need.

Back-to-normal should include back-to-the-dentist. It should also include a refreshed look at the vital importance oral health is to the overall health and well-being of our children, communities, and ourselves.

Dr. Stephanie Poynter is the dental director at Family Health Centers in Louisville and chair of the Kentucky Oral Health Coalition. Linda Poynter is a public-health dental hygienist and oral health manager at the Northern Kentucky Health Department.

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