Oral Health Summit Highlights Need For Intervention In Pocahontas County
Frost, WV – In a world with drug abuse, job insecurity and rising costs that challenge even the most frugal of households, dental care is often pushed to the bottom of the list of priorities for families. It was this idea that brought a group of concerned citizens from Pocahontas County as well as state dental health experts to the Mountain Quest Institute for a day long summit on oral health.
The event began with Gina Sharps, a Registered Dental Hygienist with the WVU School of Dentistry, giving a quick primer on all things dental with a focus on the development of baby and permanent teeth in children. Sharps says many health advocates are realizing just how crucially important dental care is to overall health. She says that sticky film that forms in your mouth after eating doesn’t stay there.
“That bacteria does not stay stationary,” says Sharps, “it accesses your bloodstream and travels throughout your body. So we know oral infection is related to diabetes, heart disease, strokes, bacterial endocarditis, respiratory disease and it’s associated with poor birth outcomes.”
She says there are also psycho-social implications for both children and adults with diseased teeth. According to Sharps, only one in five West Virginia children covered by Medicaid and the West Virginia Childrens Insurance Program [WV CHIP] actually has a dental visit.
“A number of issues around that,” she says. “Is it transportation, is it knowledge with the parents, is it behaviors, attitudes? Is it access to dental care in your county? So 84 youth have dental decay by high school graduation. West Virginia leads the nation in edentulous adults.”
“What’s edentulous? No teeth – it’s a fancy word for no teeth.”
Pocahontas only has one dentist practicing in the county, just one of the factors that make the county underserved in this area. Bobbi Jo Muto, a Registered Dental Hygienist with Marshall University has been working with the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Benedum foundation to provide funding for dental care and education to rural counties around the state. Her role at Marshall is to manage the program that she’s hoping to bring to Pocahontas County.
“Currently we are seeking additional funding to expand to 10 additional counties that are designated as distressed or dental underserved areas and the good news for you all is that Pocahontas County is at risk,” says Muto. “And I don’t want to say we’re guaranteed this funding; if you were to ask me to bet on it, I would say your odds are pretty good, probably 99% sure that we’re going to get the additional funding. We’ll know for sure in December.”
Muto says the only thing that might hurt the grant availability is another stock market plunge that could affect the Benedum foundations holdings.
Some of the other ideas discussed at the meeting include increasing the availability of fluoride access, targeting 3rd to 6th grade kids, looking to surrounding counties for dental provider support, and looking for other sources of grant funding. Taking a cue from state dental director Dr. Jason Roush, Jay Miller offered some suggestions for getting a dental program started in the county as early as next fall.
“We want to deliver this through the school system for all the reasons that Dr. Roush mentioned,” says Miller, “captive audience, we can target the specific age groups that we want, transportation is not an issue, scheduling can be managed, assuming we have cooperation with the Board [of Education] and the Principals; it’s a manageable issue. The idea here is that we’re going to have a portable setup that can be set up in a spare room in each location with minimal additional preparations.”
Other ideas from Miller include that most of the dental tasks can be performed by a hygienist rather than a dentist, that any program must become financially self-sustaining, that eventually all county schools will have access to fluoridated water and that it will cover all school aged children in the county, including those who are home-schooled. Dr. Roush says the county should also work hard to recruit another dentist, but considering the enormous debt load dental students usually acquire, that task could prove a bit harder.
A steering committee of Laura Young, Jay Miller, Barbara Lay, Missy Handley, Bob Must, Ruth Bland, Linda McCoy, Laura Jean Bennett and Jenny Friel will meet to discuss the next steps and applying for other grants.