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Indiana Receives Grant for Oral Health

December 01, 2008 

The Indiana State Department of Health has been awarded an $185,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration to help identify the top oral health priorities in Indiana.

The State Department of Health will partner with the Indiana University School of Dentistry and the Indiana University Center for Health Policy to form the Indiana Strategic Oral Health Initiative. The grant will assist the Oral Health Program at the State Department of Health and its partners in identifying priority oral health needs and developing a strategic plan to address those needs. Focus groups will be conducted to provide feedback that will be incorporated into the plan.

“This funding provides us with the opportunity to assess the oral health workforce and the availability of oral health services for underserved geographic areas and populations in the state, as well as identify any barriers to care,” said Kent Smith, DDS, director of Oral Health.

According to Dr. Smith, the number of dentists in Indiana has not kept pace with the growing population. From 1990 to 2006, the number of practicing dentists in the state increased by only three dentists, while the population of Indiana increased by more than 725,000. Dr. Smith says, consequently, tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease in Indiana. The Marion County Health Department funded a 2004 Indiana University Oral Health Research survey that reported 48 percent of six- to eight-year-old children had untreated dental decay.

"Poor dental health is a serious and often overlooked problem in Indiana,” said Marion Greene, SOHI project manager at the IU Center for Health Policy. “Thousands of students are quietly suffering from painful dental issues that affect their health and their ability to concentrate and achieve in school. We can’t allow this to continue.”

Assessing Indiana’s oral health needs will be a citizen-driven process intended to inform educators, legislators and health officials of Hoosiers’ oral health needs, according to Dr. Smith.

“Other states that have received this funding have found their state may need to upgrade facilities at their dental schools, revise Medicaid to increase participation, or provide scholarships for under-represented populations or students in financial need who desire to pursue a career in dentistry,” said Dr. Smith.

“We may find we have similar needs as other states, or we may find something completely different,” said Dr. Smith. “That’s why we must talk with Hoosiers and perform a thorough assessment of our oral health care system.”