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Letcher to be part of dental program that helps children

Ten new counties — Clark, Edmonson, Green, Greenup, Johnson, Letcher, Lewis, Nicholas, Pike and Pulaski — will join the Smiling School initiative, Gov. Steve Beshear and first lady Jane Beshear have announced.

An estimated 17,000 to 18,000 elementary school children in 40 counties participating in the program will receive a protective tooth varnish treatment this year thanks to the expansion of the Kentucky Smiling Schools Oral Health Project, Beshear said. The expansion is funded with $800,000 from the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Kentucky Oral Health Program.

Smiling Schools is based off a program adopted in Clark County in 2008. Gov. and Mrs. Beshear were at the Clark County Health Department last week to announce the expansion.

Dentist Rankin Skinner started the Clark County Dental Health Initiative to provide protective fluoride varnish treatments to students. The decay rate in the county was 50 percent at the time. With the help of 19 other dentists and more than 120 volunteers, along with support from the Clark County Community Foundation and the CCHD, varnishes were applied to students twice a year.

Students also receive a new toothbrush and toothpaste and a basic dental exam through the program.

Since its inception, the CCDHI has seen a 78 percent decline in tooth decay among students in Clark County, down to 11 percent over a five-year period.

When Jane Beshear learned of the program, she began discussing the possibility of expanding similar services to other Kentucky counties, particularly those in the Appalachian region.

“(As a former teacher), I certainly understand what a child whose health is substandard means to that child’s education,” she said. “If a child does not feel well, and certainly if he has a toothache, he’s not going learn. They can’t concentrate, they’re embarrassed and they start to fall behind. That can be the beginning of a long downward spiral for a child, and frankly, we can’t afford to lose one single child in this state.”

Created in 2011, Smiling Schools is administered to students in first through fifth grade by health department nurses, and has provided protective tooth varnish treatment to thousands of elementary-aged children.

“Oral health and oral health care has been and remains a major issue in our state,” Gov. Beshear said. “We’ve all seen in movies and documentaries and even in jokes, an unflattering picture of Kentucky always that person missing a lot of teeth. That is an unfair stereotype of Kentucky, but there’s little doubt that oral health is a serious problem that we face in the Commonwealth, and it’s a problem caused by a number of factors — things like cultural issues, poor diet, lifestyle and access to care. Poor dental health is a complex problem, and it’s a problem that we have targeted in a number of ways.”

Beshear said the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry evaluated the project and found a 20 percent reduction in decay and fillings.

“Those aren’t numbers, those are kids that are sitting in classrooms trying to learn, and if they have oral health problems, they don’t learn,” he said. “They’re too busy being in pain, they’re too busy trying to get some relief.”

Beshear said he wants 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 through his statewide health initiative, kyhealthnow.

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