The Kentucky Department for Public Health is awarding one of five $160,000 grants to the Purchase District Health Department to fund a children’s oral health program.

According the governor’s website, 36% of Kentucky’s children suffer untreated dental decay, ranking Kentucky 45th among states, and a little over half of adults age 65 and up are missing 6 or more teeth, ranking the state 47th.

The Purchase District Health Department will use the one-year  grant to hire a dental hygienist to visit schools in Ballard, Carlisle, Fulton, Hickman, McCracken, Graves, and Calloway Counties.

Purchase District Health Director Kent Koster says the department did not provide dental services last year because they lost their provider, but he’s excited to once again provide the service.

“For the purpose of this project you know our initial focus is going to be more on the rural river counties,” said Koster. “You know, Ballard, Carlisle, Fulton, and Hickman, there’s a lot less resources for dental education and prevention in those areas. It makes these counties more priority for the implementation of the oral health program.”

Lacey McNary of the Kentucky Oral Health Coalition says the mobility of the clinic is essential.

“A lot of kids in Kentucky don’t have adequate access to dentists or dental services, which is why this program is so exciting,” said McNary. “Because what I really see this program doing is going to the schools, and so by going to where they are, they probably have more chances of getting some really good prevention services like sealant, and referrals out to the local dentists.”

The health department found more than half of the nearly 22,000 children on Medicaid in the seven counties do not have a regular dentist where they can receive coordinated treatment.

Kentucky Oral Health Coalition officials say dentists aren’t required to treat Medicaid patients. Koster said the program will target both insured and uninsured children.

Koster said sustaining the program past the first year depends on Medicaid managed care organizations paying for continued service in the area.