FRANKFORT – About 25,000 Kentucky children in Appalachia will receive preventive oral health services through a new pilot program called Smiling Schools, Gov. Steve Beshear announced Thursday. The program is funded through a $1 million grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission and $250,000 in state general fund dollars.
Over the course of the 2011-2012 school year, protective fluoride tooth varnish treatment and educational materials for healthy dental practices will be offered to children in the first through fifth grades at selected schools in 16 ARC distressed counties. The counties, with the number of participating schools in each, are: Bell (9), Breathitt (1), Clay (7), Elliott (3), Floyd (8), Harlan (9), Jackson (3), Knott (6), Knox (8), Lee (2), Magoffin (3), Menifee (2), Owsley (1), Perry (11), Russell (4) and Wolfe (3).
The governor joined state officials, health care workers and lawmakers in making the announcement in Lexington at the University of Kentucky’s College of Dentistry and in Hazard at Dennis Wooton Elementary School, according to a press release from Beshear's office.
As part of the Smiling Schools program, the Oral Health Program in the Department for Public Health will also conduct outreach in eastern Kentucky to help increase public awareness of the importance of children’s dental health.
The UK Dental School will perform oral exams on a sampling of children in the pilot project prior to the first varnish application to document the initial condition of their teeth. The second treatment is applied four to six months later. Following two fluoride varnish treatments, the children will again be examined to determine the effectiveness of the varnish in stopping decay.
All children in the selected schools will be given the opportunity to have a dental screening. The fluoride varnish will then be painted onto children’s teeth and takes less than a minute to apply. The varnish treatment is painless and comes in a variety of flavors. The fluoride varnish prevents decay, slows the progress of existing decay and reverses the beginning steps of decay.
“I truly appreciate ARC and its continued partnership with Kentucky to make sound and innovative investments toward improving the lives of our young people,” said Department for Local Government Commissioner and ARC Alternate Tony Wilder. “This program not only serves as a quality preventive health tool for our children, but also helps to instill in them the importance of continued dental health and hygiene throughout their lives.”
The Smiling Schools pilot program is the latest component of Beshear’s Healthy Smiles Kentucky initiative, a groundbreaking effort launched in 2009 aimed at improving the dental health of Kentucky’s children, particularly in Appalachia.
Beshear said his decision to create the program was based on staggering oral health statistics in Kentucky. An assessment of the state's dental health in 2001 found that half of Kentucky's children had decay in their primary teeth and nearly half of children ages 2, 3 and 4 had untreated dental problems, more than twice the national average.
To learn more about the Healthy Smiles Kentucky initiative, visit KidsHealth.ky.gov.