Amidst widespread oral health challenges facing West Virginia, the West Virginia University School of Dentistry is taking a stand. Aided by the generous support of the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, the School is launching the WVU Oral Health Initiative, a multi-faceted program to change perceptions of oral health, improve daily oral hygiene behavior and mobilize the oral health workforce into areas of greatest need.
The Benedum Foundation’s recent $250,000 grant to the School of Dentistry will allow it to expand some of its existing community programs, including CHOMP in which qualified elementary aged students receive free transportation to the dental school for treatment during the school day.
The grant, made through the WVU Foundation, will also help the School to initiate new programs that will support the efforts of state oral health educators, create an online community and educational resources and collect data about the efficacy of oral health programs. The School plans to engage other schools within WVU such as the School of Journalism as well as stakeholders throughout West Virginia to work together for a common purpose.
Interim Dean Louise Veselicky, D.D.S., is emphatic about the importance of the School’s outreach programs.
“I believe our dental school should be the leader – beyond training the workforce – in improving the oral health of all West Virginians,” Veselicky said. “By engaging directly with the citizens of West Virginia, the WVU School of Dentistry, with its many partners such as the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources and its generous supporters, will break the cycle of poor oral health.”
She said the need for public awareness and good daily oral hygiene is critical. West Virginia leads the nation in the number of individuals aged 65 and older who have lost all of their natural teeth and the state Department of Health and Human Resources concluded in a 2006 study that 84 percent of West Virginia’s youth have cavities by high school graduation.
Veselicky points out that altering behavior at an early age – including a dental visit before age 1 – can completely prevent a cascade of systemic health problems that begin in the mouth. The 2003 U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Oral Health states that dental decay and/or gum disease is linked to low birth weight, cardiovascular problems, cancer, diabetes, poor nutrition, speech impairments and psychosocial problems.
Veselicky believes that simple life style choices like drinking fluoridated water, daily brushing, flossing and reducing sugar in the diet are the most important, easiest and affordable ways to improve oral health and preserve natural teeth. With the efforts of the WVU OHI, she hopes to promote this message statewide.
Veselicky says that by tackling oral health outreach and by focusing energy to educate parents and children as well as the wider community, the WVU School of Dentistry, with support from the Benedum Foundation, will improve the quality of life and health for West Virginians.
CONTACT: Amy Johns, HSC News Service