Proper oral hygiene begins in childhood, developing habits—and teeth—that last a lifetime. That’s why many groups volunteer with free clinics and similar events. Yet a consortium including Making Smiles Happen, the University of Louisville School of Dentistry, Kentucky Youth Advocates, and other partners will team up to monitor the oral health of kids in a program spanning much more than a single day.
The Making Smiles Happen Surveillance Initiative will conduct oral health surveys of 6,000 third and sixth graders at 60 different schools in Kentucky during the next 18 months. The regional and statewide data that’s collected will be used to help determine where initiatives should be launched to improve the oral health of children across the state.
The program will use a standardized model developed by the Association of State and Territorial Dental Directors and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It will comprise the direct observation of each child’s mouth and a parental questionnaire providing consent, dental and medical insurance information, and other general details about the child being screened.
“We at Kentucky Youth Advocates know that what gets measured gets changed. Current data helps highlight the extent of issues facing Kentucky children and know when we’ve started moving the needle in the right direction,” said Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates. “The findings will help inform oral health policies and programs for children for years to come.”
Faculty from the University of Louisville School of Dentistry will perform the screenings. Making Smiles Happen, which supports a variety of nonprofit partners, is Delta Dental of Kentucky’s charitable initiative. The Kentucky Association of School Superintendents and the Kentucky Oral Health Coalition also are partnering on the project.
“There is a growing awareness among educators about the importance of good oral health to success in school. When a child has a toothache, it is hard to concentrate in school,” said Dr. Tom Shelton, executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents. “This project will help address oral health needs among children so they can better focus in the classroom.”