Cutbacks hurt oral-health care programs across Kentucky

September 16, 2013 

Sharon P. Turner is dean and professor of oral health practice at the UK College of Dentistry.

I agree wholeheartedly with University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto's fundamental message to the citizens of Kentucky. We are not only losing our edge in discovery, but Kentuckians are rapidly losing the advantages built upon the shoulders of scientists, inventors and healing professionals in Kentucky and nationally who have built the platforms for scientific and health care advances that are being squandered.

Whereas America used to be a magnet that cultivated brilliant, innovative and highly motivated minds from the United States and drew these individuals from other countries, recently the Huffington Post reported the results of a survey indicating that 20 percent of scientists in the United States are contemplating leaving our country for better opportunities in other countries.

At the UK College of Dentistry, we have seen firsthand the impact of the significant decline in the budget of the National Institutes of Health for funding basic, clinical and translational research to improve the health of the country. Our faculty members are writing more quality grant applications to conduct research that is directly related to delivering better oral health treatment, which directly affects overall health of Kentuckians.

Decreased funding by cuts or elimination of grants to help support innovative oral health delivery systems in Head Start centers, schools and nursing homes imperils progress that has taken decades to achieve.

Our work in Western Kentucky resulted in the development of a nationally acclaimed model to improve pregnancy outcomes through controlling oral health infections. The model resulted in reduced incidence of premature and low-birthweight babies, saving the commonwealth substantial dollars in neonatal ICU costs and improving the lifetime health for many newborns.

Our work in Eastern Kentucky has led to a large decrease in the incidence of an especially virulent kind of tooth decay known as early childhood caries, which causes children to lose many school days and lag their peers in educational achievement. These are just two examples of federal funding needs that are jeopardized by the current budget machinations of the U.S. Congress.

This reduction has an especially critical effect on young scientists, who are also the dental educators who will train the next generation of dentists. Developing and submitting competitive grants is very time- consuming. When a young scientist suffers rejection to multiple applications early in his or her career, the tendency is to simply give up or move to a country where the many years of academic preparation are more likely to succeed in accessing research support. Hence, the situation is contributing to making the United States the victim of a "brain drain" for the first time in the history of our great country.

I, for one, would welcome an end to the budget gridlock in Congress and some legitimate investment in the future of our country. Everyone loses with the constant brinkmanship engaged in by our elected officials, with some negative outcomes of this lack of willingness to compromise potentially requiring a generation for recovery.

I applaud Capilouto for speaking out about the real and significant impact of the budget squabbles, which led to sequestration. Our children and grandchildren deserve better, and, as an aside, we baby boomers just might benefit from some health-improvement discoveries as we head into our golden years.

Sharon P. Turner is dean and professor of oral health practice at the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry.

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