Dental Care for Equine Workers' Kids

Jul 20, 2011


Before a student can start school in Kentucky, the child must get a clean bill of health from a dentist.  However, many Kentucky kids, especially the children of Spanish-speaking farm workers have little access to dental care.  In response, free screenings will soon be offered in Lexington

Thousands of workers, many of them Spanish-speaking, are the backbone of central Kentucky’s multi-billion dollar horse industry.  However, few can afford dental insurance.  Others find a language barrier separates them from good oral health.  As a result, their children rarely see a dentist.  In response, the Keeneland Association, the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry, and Bluegrass Farms Charities will offer free dental screenings.   Dentist Christina Perez will provide visual exams.

“We can get a lot from a visual exam.  That doesn’t mean we are doing any invasive procedures.  So we’re gonna look at the teeth with out eyes, visual exam.  Good lighting and make sure there aren’t any decay.  If there is, then we can send them off to be treated,” said Perez.

Perez says follow up care would come at the U-K twilight clinic. 

Some of the problems she sees are new to many immigrant workers.  Better pay in Kentucky allows horse farm workers to buy more treats, such as candy and soft drinks, for their kids. However, those sweets also cause problems for young teeth.

“They find that they are able to do this.  It gives them some sort of status perhaps to have a bottle of coke around all day long.  And that is very detrimental to their health, their oral health at least.  Probably to their general health as well,” added Perez.

Two years ago, The Kentucky Dental Association persuaded the legislature to require all children to undergo a dental screening before they can start school.  The idea was to ‘catch it early, prevent it, reduce the cost, reduce the pain.’  However, the requirement also creates a barrier to education.  .

Bluegrass Farms Charities, which works directly with the farm workers, is racing to reduce that barrier.  President Mary Lee Butte (BUT-uh) expects more than 250 kids, ages four through ten, at the free screening, but, many more qualify.  Despite a small budget and the language barrier, Butte’s trying to contact workers who staff an estimated 600 horse farms in a seven county area.

"The biggest obstacle that I see is being able to get the word out in a manner that gives parents time to plan to bring the kids out here,” said Butte.

Doctor Sharon Turner, who’s Dean of U-K’s College of Dentistry, says four pediatric dentists, eight dental residents, and probably 40 volunteers will participate in the screening.  One of the college’s mobile dental units will be stationed at Keeneland. 

Turner also hopes these screenings will help mothers realize the significance of good oral health care.  She says kids can suffer health consequences when their mothers suffer such diseases while pregnant.

“If we go in, identify and treat those infections and remove the infection, that the incidence of pre-term low birth weight babies drops dramatically.  And those babies, when they come early, they have all sorts of systemic problems later on,” explained Turner.

On Saturday, July 30th, the free screenings at Keeneland will run from ten until two in the U-K mobile unit.  The Keeneland Association is establishing a fund to cover the cost of screenings.   Organizers hope to hold subsequent screenings during the October and April race meets.