About 25,000 school children in 16 Eastern Kentucky counties will receive a free fluoride tooth-varnish treatment this school year in an effort to improve the region's high rate of child tooth decay.
A $1 million grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission will pay for most of the program, which will provide the fluoride varnish treatment to children in first through fifth grades in selected schools in Bell, Breathitt, Clay, Elliott, Floyd, Harlan, Jackson, Knott, Knox, Lee, Magoffin, Menifee, Owsley, Perry, Russell and Wolfe counties. The state will pay about $250,000 for the program.
Gov. Steve Beshear, speaking at a news conference at the University of Kentucky Dental School, said the program is the latest effort of an initiative he created in 2009 called Healthy Smiles Kentucky.
"We know that children learn best when they are healthy," Beshear said. "We also know that dental health is a key component of overall health."
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In 2001, research showed that half of Kentucky's children had decay in their primary teeth and that nearly half of children ages 2, 3 and 4 had untreated dental problems.
The UK Dental School will perform oral exams on some of the children to determine the condition of their teeth before the first preventive fluoride treatment is applied. The students will receive two treatments about four to six months apart.
The students will then be examined to determine how effective the treatment is in stopping tooth decay, said Dr. Sharon Turner, dean of the UK Dental School.
The preventive fluoride treatment takes less than a minute to apply. It has been used to slow or prevent decay and even reverse the beginning steps of decay, Turner said.
A group of dentists in Clark County have used the fluoride treatment in schools there and have seen dramatic results. Researchers hope the state's program will duplicate that success.
"Documenting that it works gives us leverage to start the program throughout the state," Turner said.
Children in the selected schools will be given the opportunity to have a dental screening, according to health officials.
In addition, the state Department of Public Health will promote children's oral health in Eastern Kentucky to increase awareness of the problem.