An effort by a group of local dentists to improve the oral health of Clark County children has received a statewide honor.
The Clark County Dental Health Initiative was the winner of the Group Award presented by the Kentucky Health Association as the outstanding public health project in the state.
The dental initiative, which began in 2008, is a partnership between local dentists, the Clark County Health Department, Clark County Community Foundation and Clark County Public Schools.
Twice a year, the group of 15 dentists and volunteers go into each elementary school in the county and apply a fluoride varnish treatment to the teeth of more than 3,000 students in preschool through sixth grade.
Since the first treatments, the decay rate for the students has dropped more than 80 percent, and Clark County now has the lowest decay rate in the state at less than 10 percent, compared to the national rate of 22 percent.
Clark County Health Director Scott Lockard, a member of the health association, said the group was impressed with the collaboration on the project and its results.
“We try to identify an outstanding public health project each year that has made the lives better for the people of the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” Lockard said. “There were several worthwhile submissions, but the committee members were very impressed with the community collaboration and the results. They were also impressed that the outstanding work here has already been replicated with a $1 million grant that Gov. Beshear secured to (establish) the program in Eastern Kentucky.”
The dental initiative is going to be a model for the entire state, Lockard said.
Dr. Rankin Skinner, the leader of the dental group, said the award was a surprise and an honor for the county. He praised the work the dentists have done.
“All these guys here make this work. They shut down their offices and go out there and work with 6,000 students a year, and this is hard work,” Skinner said. “They take pride in this, and they know it’s making a difference in the community. We’re not always first in everything in Clark County, and here we are setting the bar, not only for Kentucky, but the country. This is something they can be really proud of.”
When he first began looking for volunteers to participate in the initiative, Skinner said someone told him he might find a few people willing to do it once, but it would never last. But that’s not been the case, as many of the dentists, such as Dr. Bonnie Wheetley, Dr. Donna Meek and Dr. Rex McCrary, have been involved each year it’s been held.
“I’ve been doing this since the first year and I’ve seen the kids go from being apprehensive that we were there to now they are not afraid and they expect us to come,” Wheetley said.
Meek, who applied varnish at the Clark County Preschool this year, said it’s something she looks forward to each year.
“I just love going every year, especially to the preschool. The kids love having us there and they do much better in the school with thier peers than they do in the office with Mom and Dad,” Meek said. “I get to see some of my regular patients and they come running and jump into my arms. It’s exciting to see them get excited about good dental care.”
Even the teachers at the schools are getting excited about the fluoride varnish program, Skinner said.
“Now that teachers know how well the varnish works, they are asking if they can get it too. They never did that in the beginning, but now want it put on their teeth too,” Skinner said. “We’ve come a long way since that first year. This year we only saw a couple of cavities and, my goodness, I’ve never seen so many braces. I was shocked. That means that parents are becoming more aware of the importance of good dental health and that’s exciting.”
Lockard said the varnish program has caught the attention of people across the state, and everywhere he goes, someone asks about getting the program in their areas.
“Kentucky has truly always had some of the poorest oral health in the nation and to see a project that started here in Clark County have the potential to flip that totally upside down and make Clark County a Kentucky leader in oral health is unheard of,” Lockard said. “We are very pleased with the work these guys have done here.”
Contact Bob Flynn at email@example.com.