Health

For the first time since 2001, an oral health survey will be undertaken in Kentucky.

The Making Smiles Happen Surveillance Initiative will assess the oral health of Kentucky third- and sixth-grade students.

The initiative, by insurer Delta Dental of Kentucky, seeks to assess the oral health of Kentucky’s children and determine the need for additional dental programs. Dr. Cliff Maesaka, CEO of Delta Dental of Kentucky, said the survey will establish a baseline for the state.

“If we’re going to move the needle on children’s oral health, we need to know where we’re starting from, because in that way we’ll be able to measure success, and we’ll be able to see if we’re having an impact — if we know first where we are,” he said.

On Wednesday, sixth-graders at Bullitt Lick Middle School will become the first group of students to participate in the initiative. The Shepherdsville middle school is one of 60 schools that have been chosen to be part of the survey.

The project will screen 6,000 students in Kentucky. It will take 18 months to complete the survey. Kentucky Youth Advocates, the University of Louisville School of Dentistry, and several other local and statewide agencies are partnering.

Maesaka said dental students at U of L will provide dental screenings for the children participating. He said the screenings would be given through spring 2016, and data from the survey would be available by next fall.

Oral health was the topic of a recent summit in Louisville focused on oral health policies and initiatives. Dr. Michael Glick, a dental medicine professor at the University of Buffalo and the summit’s keynote speaker, said oral health affects the overall well-being of Kentuckians.

“Oral health for some reason has always been siloed separately from systemic health, and obviously if you have an infection anywhere in the body, it will affect other places and other organs in the body as well,” Glick said. “So, it’s not surprising that infections in the mouth may have some correlation with other infections in the body as a whole.”

Improving the overall dental health of Kentucky children was also one of the goals of outgoing Gov. Steve Beshear’s health initiative.

Under the Affordable Care Act, children are supposed to receive two dental exams a year at no cost.

“For us to identify enhancements or better oral health, we need to focus on the population that will have access to oral health care,” Maesaka said.

Maesaka hopes the survey will allow the organization to work with children and parents to develop achievable goals in improving the health of Kentuckians.

“The end goal of all of it is to make our children — and ultimately our entire population — healthier,” Maesaka said.