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LISTEN: Oral Health Literacy Key To Kentucky Reaching Goals

Creative Commons

Gov. Steve Beshear's health goals for Kentucky include reducing the percentage of children with untreated dental decay by 25 percent. The goals, under the kyhealthnow initiative, also call for a 10 percent increase in the number of adult visits to the dentist.

These topics and more will be discussed Friday in Louisville at the Oral Health Summit, hosted by the Kentucky Oral Health Coalition. The event focuses on Kentucky’s oral health policy initiatives and landscape.

Advocates and politicians from across the state will be in attendance to discuss collaboration and policy solutions. WFPL News recently spoke to keynote speaker Dr. Michael Glick, professor of dental medicine and at the University of Buffalo.

How does oral health affect overall health?

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. So, it's not surprising that infections in the mouth may have some correlation with other infections overall in the body as a whole.

How can poor oral health contribute to systemic diseases — diseases that affect the body as a whole?

We know today that there is an associate between periodontal disease and diabetes. We know that if you have improved periodontal health your need for different types of medications to treat diabetes may be reduced.  It may actually be reduced by one medication, which is quite significant. How exactly that association occurs, what is it that causes this is unclear, but it could be inflammation. We know that treatment of periodontal disease will reduce the need for diabetic medications, meaning better glycemic control.

How does a state go about achieving its goals of reducing tooth decay in young people and increasing dentist visits by adults?

No.1 is oral health literacy, meaning make people understand the importance of oral health, making people understand that without good oral health you don't have health, and taking care of oral health on the same level that you take care of any other disease.

What are some of the barriers for the people receiving dental care?

We have X number of dollars available to us. Are we going to spend it on oral care or are we going to spend it on something else? I think if we can increase the number of people that can access dental care without consideration of cost, I think we're fine. I think we could get a dramatic increase of people seeking care.

What are simple things people can do to improve their oral health?

No. 1 is obviously brushing your teeth on a regular basis, not because "Do I feel I need to brush my teeth?" but making it into something you do everyday. Every time you wake up in the morning you brush your teeth, or after you eat breakfast you brush your teeth. Before you go to bed, brush your teeth again. Just doing that is going to make a huge difference.

There are individuals who don't brush their teeth more than once a week, even less than that sometimes, because they don't see the necessity in doing it. It's part of oral health literacy.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

(Image via Creative Commons)

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