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Center for Health Workforce Studies Finds Underserved Populations in Kentucky at Risk for Oral Health Disparities

Despite statewide initiatives to improve oral health status in Kentucky’s residents, the research found that oral health disparities persist.

ALBANY, N.Y. (March 1, 2016) -- The University at Albany’s Center for Health Workforce Studies (CHWS) recent report, “Oral Health in Kentucky,” details findings about the oral health of people in the state of Kentucky.

The study found Kentucky is second in the nation in the incidence of oral and pharyngeal cancers and fifth highest in the U.S. for adults 65 or older who have had all their natural teeth extracted.
When compared to other states on a range of health and oral health indicators, Kentucky also ranks high in rates of chronic disease, infant mortality, substance abuse, oral cancer and tooth loss in the population.

Despite statewide initiatives to improve oral health status in Kentucky’s residents, the research found that oral health disparities persist. Low income children and adults, people living in rural areas, the elderly, pregnant women, and special needs populations were at greater risk for poor oral health status and outcomes than others in the state.

Based at UAlbany's School of Public Health, The Center for Health Workforce Studies is a not-for-profit research organization whose mission is to provide timely, accurate data and conduct policy-relevant research about the health workforce. The report is based on an extensive literature review and analysis of secondary data CHWS has done similar research in Maine, Michigan, North Dakota, and New Hampshire.

“While Kentucky has made great strides in expanding access to oral health services for underserved populations, more needs to be done," says CHWS Project Director Margaret Langelier. “Continued support to the state’s safety net providers is essential to efforts that can further reduce oral health disparities in Kentucky.”

Other important findings from this report include:

  • Disparities in oral health access are found in specific regions of the state, with dramatic differences within a single town or community. For example in 2014, eastern Kentucky had the lowest percentage of adults in all regions of the state who visited a dentist or dental clinic in the past year.
  • The increase in the number of people enrolled in Medicaid increased the opportunity for many to receive dental services. However, the large number of newly insured is challenging the capacity of the oral health care delivery system to serve them.
  • The oral health workforce is unevenly distributed across the state.
  • Less than half of children insured through Medicaid received dental care in 2014.

The report findings will be presented and discussed with the Kentucky legislature at the Senate and House Committee meetings in Frankfort, KY on February 24th and 25th, respectively.

The full report is available here.

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