Caucus meets to discuss poor oral health in Missouri

Monday, February 11, 2013 | 11:00 p.m. CST; updated 9:45 a.m. CST, Tuesday, February 12, 2013

JEFFERSON CITY – Missouri ranked 47th nationally in access to oral health care and earned a D in 2012 for the use of dental sealants.

"Having a D is not good," Rep. Donna Lichtenegger, R-Jackson, said Monday night at the first meeting of the Missouri General Assembly Oral Health Caucus.

Those rankings — by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Pew Charitable Trusts, respectively — have prompted a push for legislative action. 

“With this caucus we want to help and encourage members of the House and Senate to go back to their areas and help constituents have better oral health,” said Lichtenegger, co-chair of the caucus with Rep. Jeanne Kirkton, D-Webster Grove.

“It’s really important that the public knows the importance of oral health,” Lichtenegger said. “I don't think people realize, that not just a child, but an adult can die from dental disease."

The caucus has been a goal for the Missouri Coalition for Oral Health, Executive Director Gary Harbison said.

Harbison presented other goals at the meeting, such as creating a position for a state dental director, expanding access to dental sealants for children, and expanding public water system fluoridation.

Although Missouri has an oral health program, the state cannot apply for grants from the CDC without a state dental director or a real intention to create the position, Harbison said.

J.C. Standlee, a dentist in Jefferson City, said he questioned whether the position would bring about any change in Missourians' oral health.

“It is possible the director could be sitting at an empty desk?” Standlee asked. “Would he be able to do anything without a budget?”

Lichtenegger spoke about her proposed bills to improve oral health in Missouri. One bill would create the state dental director position, and the other would require public water systems to give public notice before deciding to eliminate fluoridation.

Columbia is in the middle of a debate about fluoride in its water supply. In mid-January, Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services formed a subcommittee to study questions and concerns that have been raised about fluoridation. That group has not yet made a recommendation.

The caucus will meet again in March. 

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.

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