New KIDS COUNT Report Asks: "Is West Virginia a Great Place for Kids' Smiles?"
Charleston, W. Va. - Is West Virginia a great place for kids' smiles? That's the question West KIDS COUNT set out to answer when the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation asked the organization to prepare a report on the status of children's oral health in West Virginia. KIDS COUNT issued its report June 1, 2012 during a meeting of the state's Oral Health Coalition in Charleston. The report, Is West Virginia A Great Place for Kids' Smiles?, chronicles the state's recent progress in improving children's oral health and makes a series of recommendations for further improvements, including expansion of the school-based dental sealant program to all high-risk communities in West Virginia .
In summarizing the findings of the KIDS COUNT report, Executive Director Margie Hale said, "Although West Virginia has made incredible gains in laying the policy groundwork for children's oral health, much more can be done to make the state a great place for kids' smiles. What is most striking in the oral health data are the tremendous needs of poor children and the promise that expanding the school sealant program and Medicaid coverage, in particular, hold for improving their oral health."
The KIDS COUNT report measures the status of children's oral health against the national standard developed by The Pew Center on the States. Pew has identified eight policies by which it rates states' efforts to prevent childhood dental disease. They are:
- Having sealant programs in at least 25 percent of high-risk schools;
- Allowing a hygienist to place sealants in a school-based program without requiring a dentist's exam;
- Providing optimally fluoridated water to at least 75 percent of residents who are served by community water systems;
- Meeting or exceeding the 2006/2007 national average of Medicaid-enrolled children receiving dental services;
- Paying dentists who serve Medicaid enrolled children the national average of dentists' median fees;
- Reimbursing Medicaid medical providers for preventive dental services;
- Authorizing a new type of primary-care dental provider; and
- Submitting basic screening data to the national database that tracks oral health status.
According to the Pew Center on the States, dental health in the United States has markedly improved, but children have not benefited at the same rate as adults. And, poor children suffer the most from dental decay, and poor dental health impairs growth and development, school readiness and performance, overall health and even economic growth.
Kim Tieman, Program Officer for the Benedum Foundation, explained the foundation's long-standing commitment to addressing the oral health issue by saying, "For more than a decade, the Benedum Foundation has been providing funding for innovative, broad-based efforts to improve oral health in West Virginia, especially children's oral health. Thanks to the new KIDS COUNT report, we know those efforts are now paying big dividends. But, there is clearly more work to be done, especially in terms of the oral health of low-income kids. That's why the Benedum Foundation remains committed to helping the state achieve its oral health goals."
Pew's February 2010 report The Cost of Delay identified West Virginia as one of eight states to receive an "F" in its report card on children's oral health. The KIDS COUNT report notes that, by the time the Pew report card was issued in 2010, many of the benchmarks were well on their way to being met, thanks to the strong partnership efforts of the state's oral health community.
The KIDS COUNT report also credits a decade's worth of oral health advocacy for West Virginia's improvement from an "F" to a "C" in the 2011 Pew report card on children's oral health. Hale noted that the state's grade would have been higher, but the report was issued before the state's Oral Health Surveillance System was completed; before West Virginia's Medicaid began reimbursing primary care physicians for applying fluoride varnish and referring children to a dental home; and before new legislation was passed in 2012 allowing hygienists to place sealants without a prior dentist's exam.
Hale was quick to point out that there are many areas in which children's oral health still needs improvement. "Although West Virginia has made incredible gains in laying the policy groundwork for children's oral health, more can be done to make the state a great place for kids' smiles," Hale said. "Not only do we have ample room to improve in each of the Pew benchmarks, but, in many cases, the benchmarks represent a minimum threshold, rather than the ideal of care."
The KIDS COUNT report identifies important next steps for each of the Pew criteria for children's oral health, including:
- Expanding the school-based dental sealant program to all high-risk communities;
- Fully implementing the state's plan to address its dental shortage;
- Addressing the fluoridation problem for West Virginia children who use well water;
- Examining Medicaid dental rates to pay a greater percentage of standard fees;
- Monitoring reimbursement rates and incrementally phasing in rate increases;
- Training more doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners and physician assistants to provide preventive dental services;
- Exploring seriously the idea of mid-level dental practitioners; and
- Addressing design issues in the state's oral health surveillance system to ensure a random sample of children.
Hale concluded by saying, "When we make significant public investments in kids' healthy smiles, these investments will pay off handsomely for our children, their families and our state."
The KIDS COUNT report can be downloaded at http://www.wvkidscount.org/childrens-oral-health-project.
West Virginia KIDS COUNT's vision is to make West Virginia a great place to be a kid. Founded in 1990, KIDS COUNT provides the most trusted information about the well-being of children and builds alliances to advocate for what kids need. The non-profit organization's signature program is the KIDS COUNT Data Book, an annual, county-by-county report of child well-being in West Virginia. KIDS COUNT is currently fighting to improve the quality of childcare by advocating for the funding necessary to implement a quality rating and improvement system for childcare programs. And, the organization is working to improve children's oral health by advocating for policies that promote good dental care for West Virginia's youngest children. To learn more about the organization's mission, history and programs, go to www.wvkidscount.org.