Statewide children’s oral health surveillance initiative launches in Bullitt County


    LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Delta Dental of Kentucky’s charitable initiative, Making Smiles Happen, in collaboration with the University of Louisville School of Dentistry, Kentucky Youth Advocates and several other partners, launched a statewide oral health surveillance project today in Bullitt County. The initiative will screen the oral health of students in schools across Kentucky.

    “We are proud to support this initiative because we firmly believe the well-being of our children is the key to the future health and success of our families, communities, and businesses,” said Delta Dental of Kentucky’s President & CEO, Dr. Cliff Maesaka. “Data is the only real tool to level set with respect to oral health.  In order to improve, we need to know where we’re starting.  If we know where we are, we can measure improvement.  That is what this surveillance project is all about.”

    The Making Smiles Happen Surveillance Initiative is an oral health survey of third and sixth grade students with a goal to better understand the oral health needs for Kentucky’s youth. This is the first statewide surveillance project since 2001, which was conducted by the Kentucky Department for Public Health.

    “We at Kentucky Youth Advocates know that what gets measured gets changed. Current data helps highlight the extent of issues facing Kentucky children and know when we’ve started moving the needle in the right direction,” said Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director at Kentucky Youth Advocates. “We applaud Delta Dental of Kentucky for supporting this important surveillance initiative and are proud to be a partner in this project. The findings will help inform oral health policies and programs for children for years to come.”

    The 18-month project will screen approximately 6,000 third and sixth graders at 60 schools across the state. The results of the initiative will include regional and statewide data to help determine where to target initiatives to improve the oral health of children across the state. The Making Smiles Happen Surveillance Initiative will be conducted using a standardized model developed by the Association of State and Territorial Dental Directors (ASTDD) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The surveillance model will have two basic components which includes the direct observation of a child’s mouth and a parent questionnaire that will provide consent, dental and medical insurance information, and other general information about the child being screened.

    The oral health screenings will be conducted in partnership with the University of Louisville School of Dentistry, with faculty executing the screenings.

    “We are eager to partner with Delta Dental of Kentucky, the Kentucky Youth Advocates and the Kentucky school districts to obtain a current, accurate assessment of the oral health status of children in the Commonwealth. This data will provide information in understanding the most critical needs, and can be used to strategically plan the most efficient and cost effective treatment and prevention measures to ensure the health of Kentucky’s children,” said Dr. John Sauk, dean of the UpSchool of Dentistry.

    Several additional organizations are partnering on the project, including the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents and the Kentucky Oral Health Coalition.

    “There is a growing awareness among educators about the importance of good oral health to success in school. When a child has a toothache, it is hard to concentrate in school. This project will help address oral health needs among children so they can better focus on the classroom,” said Dr. Tom Shelton, executive director at the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents.

    “During the first meetings of the Kentucky Oral Health Coalition, it was obvious that data was needed to assess our starting point,” said Dr. Laura Hancock-Jones, chair of the Kentucky Oral Health Coalition and University of Kentucky College of Dentistry Public Health Division’s Western Kentucky Dental Outreach. “I am very pleased to see all the partners who are helping bring the surveillance project from vision to action.” 

    An Advisory Committee has been appointed to oversee the 18-month project and consists of representatives from Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, Kentucky Dental Association, Kentucky Department of Public Health: Oral Health Division, Kentucky Dental Hygienist Association, Kentucky Oral Health Coalition, Kentucky Youth Advocates, Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative, University of Louisville School of Dentistry, and University of Kentucky College of Dentistry. 



    Julie Heflin
    Julie oversees digital content for the Office of Communications and Marketing. She began her UofL career on the Health Sciences Center campus in 2007. Prior to this, Julie was a journalist with WFPL (Louisville Public Media), and occasionally filed reports for National Public Radio.