The 2017 Louisville Health Equity report was released Thursday. The study looks at health-related factors like suicide, mental health, asthma, housing, drug and alcohol use, and homicides in the Louisville region.
This year, the Center for Health Equity, part of the division of Public Health and Wellness, proposed solutions to some of the city’s health issues, including policy changes and what individuals can do.
One of the issues that stands out in the report is the oral health of some Jefferson County Public School students. The number of cavities in kindergartners increased dramatically between the 2013 and 2016 school years, per the report.
But that was because of a 2011 state law that says kids entering public school must be screened, according to Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates. He said about two out of three children in Kentucky overall were screened this year.
“It’s a result of more kids have been screened, so more cavities have been found. I don’t think we’ve had an explosion of bad teeth in Louisville,” Brooks said. “More bad teeth have been discovered.”
Data show 108 JCPS kindergartners had cavities during the 2013 school year. By 2016, almost 800 kindergartners screened positive for cavities. First-graders also saw a big jump between those years — from 151 kids with cavities to 563.
The report makes several suggestions to improve kids’ oral health. One such suggestion is increasing the number of dentists who accept Medicaid, Kentucky’s insurance program for low-income people.
“Access to quality dental care is a real issue for children who have to count on Medicaid. Our best estimate is that one out of five dentists take Medicaid,” Brooks said.
The local or state government could also subsidize produce and other healthy foods to increase sales of these products, the report suggests. A program could also be established to allow doctors to write “prescriptions” for patients to take to a participating store to purchase produce.
Poor oral health — including issues like cavities — has been associated with heart disease and respiratory diseases, like pneumonia, according a study published in 2007.
This story has been updated.