Kentuckians lack access to dental care in large numbers, according to a new poll released this week by the Kentucky Health Foundation. The cost of dental care and a lack of insurance are the primary reasons cited for foregoing recommended oral checkups.
Local officials said the findings are not surprising and underscore the need and importance of an upcoming health clinic in Greenup County, which will provide free dental, health and eye screenings to attendees regardless of income.
According to the Kentucky Health Issues Poll, 1.7 million Kentucky adults — more than half of the state’s adults — lack dental insurance and only six in 10 Kentucky adults reported they have visited the dentist within the last year. Nationally, the average is 70 percent.
Thirty-seven percent of Kentucky adults reported they or someone in their household skipped a dental visit in the last year solely because of cost. Twice as many adults without dental insurance reported going without needed oral care as did those with dental insurance. Nearly four in 10 Kentucky adults reported they do not have a personal dentist or oral health-care provider.
Four in 10 Kentuckians do not have a usual dentist, clinic or other oral health-care provider and 79 percent of those adults reported going more than five years without a dental visit.
The poll, which randomly sampled more than 1,600 Kentucky adults throughout the state, was conducted last fall by the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati.
The findings are disturbing, but not surprising to local public health officials. “Dental care is expensive and it is expensive to the provider as well as for the patient,” said Cassie Mace, RN, of the Greenup County Health Department.
“Most people, they let their teeth go because they don’t see getting regular checkups as important. Then, when they do have problems, they can’t afford to get the corrections they need,” said Mace, noting dental procedures can quickly add up to four-figure bills.
If problems aren’t addressed, however, they can lead to other health problems. Serious blood infections, heart problems and poor nutritions are among common ailments linked to dental issues, Mace said.
The free health clinic, scheduled June 22 and 23, is expected to draw hundreds of patients for free dental care for those reasons, said Mace, who is the Greenup event coordinator for the Remote Area Medical clinic. Hundreds of patients are expected to attend the Greenup RAM clinic seeking dental services in addition to the free eye and medical care that will be provided.
For oral care specifically, an 80-chair dental clinic will be the site of cleanings, fillings, extractions, restorations, repairs and alignments. Labor will be provided by the University of Louisville Dental School and four oral surgeons are expected to be on hand for procedures, said Mace.
“The hope is that once you have your big stuff, you will be able to afford cleanings and able to maintain your dental health at that point,” said Mace, noting patients can often be referred to other low-cost or free services following the clinic.
The health department, in conjunction with Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital, is continuing to look for help with funding the clinic. There will be a meeting at 2 p.m. today at the health department for organizations interested in learning more about the RAM clinic and how to help with fundraising.
Organizers must raise $40,000 to host the clinic, which is expected to provide more than $450,000 in free services.
For more information, call the health department at (606) 473-9848.
CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at (606) 326-2653 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.