WINCHESTER – Governor Steve Beshear and First Lady Jane Beshear are ensuring thousands of Kentucky children will receive preventive oral health services during the current schoolyear with the addition of 10 new counties joining the Smiling School initiative.
An estimated 17,000 to 18,000 elementary school children in the 40 counties now participating in the program will receive a protective tooth varnish treatment thanks to the expansion of the program from an $800,000 stream of funding by the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Kentucky Oral Health Program.
At an announcement on Tuesday, the Governor and First Lady joined elected leaders and local health care officials at the Clark County Health Department where a varnishing demonstration took place.
“Good dental health is a key component of good overall health,” Gov. Beshear said. “Kentucky’s children deserve the best start in life, and the latest round of our Smiling Schools program will help even more children live up to their full potential in the classroom and beyond.”
The 10 new counties joining the program are Clark, Edmonson, Green, Greenup, Johnson, Letcher, Lewis, Nicholas, Pike and Pulaski.
Smiling Schools, created in 2011 by Gov. Beshear, has provided protective tooth varnish treatment to thousands of elementary-aged children living primarily in distressed counties of Appalachia. The other counties among the 40 participating the current school year are: Bath, Bell, Breathitt, Carter, Clay, Elliott, Estill, Fleming, Floyd, Hart, Jackson, Knox, Lawrence, Leslie, Lincoln, McCreary, Magoffin, Martin, Menifee, Metcalfe, Montgomery, Monroe, Morgan, Owsley, Powell, Robertson, Rockcastle, Rowan, Whitley and Wolfe.
“As Governor, Steve has committed to improving children’s health, and oral health remains one of the major issues facing Kentucky,” Mrs. Beshear said. “The problem is even more pronounced among our young people who suffer pain, low self-esteem and poor school performance because of dental issues. Steve and I are thrilled we are able to continue the program by expanding it to more areas of the state.”
Smiling Schools is administered by local health department nurses who provide fluoride varnish treatments to elementary school students in grades 1 through 5.
“Programs and services like Smiling Schools address the provider issue by bringing services directly to children in school-based settings,” said Dr. Stephanie Mayfield, Department for Public Health commissioner.
The Department for Public Health works with local health departments to provide educational materials on oral health to the parents of the children receiving treatment.
Kentucky ranks 41st in annual dental visits; 45th in the percentage of children with untreated dental decay; and 47th in the percentage of adults 65 and older missing six or more teeth.
An evaluation of the Smiling Schools project by the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry showed a 20 percent reduction in decay and fillings, said Audrey Tayse Haynes, secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
As part of his statewide health initiative, kyhealthnow, Gov. Beshear aims to reduce the percentage of children with untreated dental decay by 25 percent and increase adult dental visits by 10 percent by the year 2019.
Gov. Beshear recently announced a new loan forgiveness program for dental students who will practice in eastern Kentucky. The program is supported by $500,000 in state funds available for dental students who practice in the region. The dental schools at the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville will administer the program, providing two to five awardees $100,000 each for a two-year commitment.
Though new to the state’s Smiling School program, Clark County is no stranger to the concept of school-based treatments. In fact, the Clark County program, created by local dentist Dr. Rankin Skinner, served as a model for Smiling Schools.
“Clark County is so lucky to have a preventive dental initiative in place,” said Dr. Skinner. “Our Clark County Health Department is setting the standard for communities across Kentucky and the country. This program started in 2008, and under Scott Lockard’s leadership has addressed head on the No. 1 childhood disease, dental caries (tooth decay). Also, we are also so lucky to have a Governor and First Lady who are so dedicated to children’s health. It makes you proud to be from Kentucky.”
“The Clark County Health Department team is very excited to be part of the Smiling Schools expansion,” said Lockard, Clark County Health Department director. “We recognize that good oral health is a key part of overall health, which is the foundation for learning in our educational system. The great success we have achieved in reducing rates of tooth decay has been the result of a strong partnership between the schools, private dental community, philanthropies and the health department. We are committed to lowering decay rates into the single digits so every child’s smile can be the best it can be.”
“We are pleased to be part of Gov. Beshear’s commitment to making Appalachia’s future healthier through partnerships like this,” said Earl Gohl, federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission. “Making dental care accessible will help Kentucky’s kids sink their teeth into their future.”