PIKEVILLE — Gov. Steve Beshear announced Wednesday $240,000 in federal and state grants will finance coalitions to improve children's dental health in 24 counties.
The money is the latest round of a $1.6 million initiative started last year. The initial funding went toward providing incentives for dentists to receive pediatric dentistry training.
"Our children cannot be healthy without healthy mouths," Beshear said in announcing the grant at the Pike County Health Department office in Pikeville.
Coalitions, which will include public health department officials, schools, dentists and others, will come up with their own ideas for how to use the $10,000 start-up grants locally, Beshear said.
None is finalized yet, but some ideas for using the money have been to recruit oral surgeons to local hospitals, to create nutritional and dental care pamphlets geared toward young parents, or to pay for transportation for children between schools and dental clinics for checkups and screenings, said Dr. Julie Watts McKee, the state dental director. The money is restricted and can't be used to directly pay for treatment.
"The community is the best resource to find the solution to the problems," McKee said.
The Pike County Health Department has not set its plans for the grant money yet, but it is providing free dental screenings for schoolchildren, a new requirement for any student entering public schools this year, said Patrece Beverly, health education coordinator for the department.
Part of the $240,000 comes from the Appalachian Regional Commission to Appalachian counties designated as "distressed:" Estill, Floyd, Hart, Johnson, Knox, Lawrence, Lewis, Magoffin, Metcalfe, Monroe, Robertson and Whitley. The rest comes from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration for Boyd, Franklin, Jefferson, Jessamine, Logan, Madison, Marshall, Pike and Woodford counties, and for Madisonville and the Purchase District Health Department in Western Kentucky.
Kentucky's dental health has been notoriously poor. In 2004, 27 percent of Kentuckians had lost six or more teeth to decay or gum disease, officials said. A state Department of Public Health study found that half of children had decay in their primary teeth, and nearly 47 percent of children ages 2 through 4 had untreated dental problems, more than twice the national average.
At a recent Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps free clinic in Pikeville, dentists and oral surgeons extracted 1,157 teeth from 575 adults, and four teeth from 11 children. Relatively few dentists choose to accept Medicaid-covered patients because of the low rates of compensation in the public insurance program.
"We do want to address that," Beshear said, but it's not possible in the near future because of budget constraints.