Oral health caucus discusses dental clinics, screenings

Monday, April 8, 2013 | 9:44 p.m. CDT; updated 11:19 p.m. CDT, Monday, April 8, 2013

JEFFERSON CITY — Mirrors, toothbrushes and toothpaste — these are some of the things the state provides Dotty Gholson when she and a team volunteers head to Cape Girardeau County and Scott City area schools. 

Many Missouri children never see a dentist, so providing free dental screenings at schools and daycares helps prevent future infections and cavities, said Gholson, the oral health coordinator for the Oral Health Coalition of Southeast Missouri. These free dental screenings were among the topics the Missouri General Assembly Oral Health Caucus heard about at Monday night's monthly meeting. 

Gholson told the caucus that even after children are screened, the next hurdle is getting parents to take their child to the dentist. 

Oral health issues are not just about teeth, said Rep. Donna Lichtenegger, R-Jackson, co-chair of the caucus. Missouri residents should understand that oral infections can spread to the entire body.

The caucus also heard a presentation from Donnell Cox, a regional director of DentaQuest, who spoke about, among other topics, reaching out to primary care physicians about the importance of oral health care. Primary care physicians need to be educated and should be encouraged to perform risk assessments and referrals to the dentist, she said.

Lichtenegger encouraged legislators to spread the word to their constituents about a free dental clinic, called the Missouri Mission of Mercy, that will be open May 3 and May 4 at the Show-Me Center in Cape Girardeau. She said the event needs 1,500 volunteers. 

The clinic provides essential services to Missouri residents who need dental care, but it is not a systemic solution to the oral health challenges that exist in Missouri, said Gary Harbison, the executive director of the Missouri Coalition for Oral Health.

"These clinics truly are great, but the flip side of it is, we would like to have Missouri in condition someday where we don't have to do this to meet dental needs," he said. "We want oral health to be a high priority, and we aren't there. Right now, it's an afterthought."

Supervising editor is Karen Miller.

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