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Benedum Foundation to Improve Oral Health of West Virginians

The Benedum Foundation has identified Oral Health as a serious issue in the state of West Virginia. Through West Virginia Grantmakers, the Benedum Foundation has created a grant program to combat this problem in the Mountain State.  

Dental disease is the single most prevalent chronic childhood disease, but it is also almost 100 percent preventable. Prevention is cost effective, with the potential to save millions of dollars. A number of research studies have demonstrated that poor dental health in children is tied to poor school performance and poor self-esteem. It directly affects a child’s quality of life. In adults, oral health relates to heart disease, diabetes, and even pre-term births,
as well as similar self-esteem issues to those faced by children.

Statistics from WV Healthy People 2010:

65.6 percent of children have cavities by age 8.

In 2005 there were 47.2 dentists per 100,000 West Virginia residents, well below the national rate of 63.6. Similarly, there were 39.7 dental hygienists for every 100,000 citizens (a ratio of 1:2517). 34 of West Virginia’s 55 counties are federally designated all or in part as dental health professional shortage areas.

In 2001, although 71.6 percent of West Virginia’s children were covered by dental insurance, 40.4 percent had not seen the dentist in the last six months.

In 2005, only 15 pediatric dentists were practicing in West Virginia. A recent survey of all West Virginia dentists indicates that 50 percent of those who see children in their practice see very few infants or toddlers (age 0 to 3).

Although many dentists are willing to take Medicaid patients, there appears to be a problem finding dentists willing to take new patients. Not all dentists will see children with disabling conditions, such as cerebral palsy or mental retardation.

The Benedum Foundation has recognized the extensive impact of poor oral health on West Virginia communities and has provided financial support for a number of initiatives in recent years. Through this new project, West Virginia Grantmakers worked through its network of community foundations to address the issue at a local level. Community foundations are in a unique position as leaders, conveners, and funders working at the ground level. This initiative will allow these foundations to work on a common issue and make maximum use of available resources.

Through this Benedum Foundation initiative, the Community Foundation for the Ohio Valley was recently awarded a $5,500 grant for a public awareness campaign focusing on Oral Health in the Northern Panhandle. The Community Foundation will be purchasing American Dental Association brochures focusing on oral health in children and pregnant women. These brochures will be distributed to dental offices, hospitals, doctors’ offices, clinics, and health departments in the Northern Panhandle. The Community Foundation will also work with the Ohio County Medical Society to produce a rack card to distribute to clinics and health departments listing dentist that accept  Medicaid patients.