For many Kentuckians, the key to a healthier life may start with a good set of teeth. The Commonwealth is one of the poorest states when it comes to oral health. In fact, it ranks second in the nation in the loss of natural teeth. That's one of the main reasons, according to State Oral Health Director Dr. Julie Watts McKee, the Kentucky Department for Public Health is holding a summit in Lexington on Wednesday.
"We have dentists here, and we have hygienists here, and we have dental professors and we have hygiene professors. But we have people that are not directly related to the industry of dentistry. We have educators, faith-based foundations, people in school systems that want healthier schools, retired people that are being activists in their own communities; the big cross section here is what's going to make today incredibly successful."
One of the main topics being discussed involves paying extra dental attention toward pregnant women.
"Studies are showing that she has a longer term pregnancy, a healthier birth, a more appropriate weighted baby, we don't want fat babies, but we certainly don't want those low birth-weight babies."
Dr. McKee says entire families can benefit from the mother developing good oral health habits.
"She takes care of her mouth better, so her kids are well cared for, brushing occurs at an earlier age, the onset of decay may be later for these children, and fewer."
Another increasingly popular idea involves bringing dental hygienists onto school grounds to conduct preliminary examinations.
"What that will do is that will take dental preventive services to students in their school setting, to get them into the dental care system a lot earlier because they will be providing the prevention and when they see a problem, they will make an effective referral back to the parents so that the child can be taken care of. Because a lot parents don't even look in their kids' mouth and go, oh my goodness look at that. That might be a hole."
Other topics up for discussion include funding oral health initiatives, prevention and treatment, and community-based collaborations.