Oral Health: Affordability, access must be addressed

We’ve all heard the old “jokes” told mostly by those from outside West Virginia about the condition of our teeth. Nasty as they might have been, there was a grain of truth to them in terms of the need for better oral health for many families in our state. Progress has been made, but room for improvement remains.

That is where the West Virginia Oral Health Coalition comes in. Last week it held a stakeholder meeting here in Parkersburg to hear ideas for the group’s next State Oral Health Plan. Meetings will continue around the state as the group pursues its mission of “Healthy Smiles for All.” That’s a lofty goal in a state where too many families are struggling with economic worries, addiction, poor health and limited access to healthcare.

Even for families who have fared better in the economic resurgence that wasn’t, “extras” like dental insurance are an easy thing to slice from the budget when times are (and have been) tough.

Oral Health Plans put together for 2010 to 2015 and 2016 to 2020 focused on issues like community water fluoridation and dental sealant programs for school-aged kids. How about we add affordability and access to the list?

A family that cannot afford to take everyone to the dentist, maybe doesn’t have a means of transportation, or does not live anywhere near a dentist’s office is going to have enough other worries that proper oral healthcare will fall by the wayside — and many of them live in areas where they do not draw from a municipal water source that might be fluoridated.

Surely these concerns will come up during the meetings being held statewide. Let us hope the State Oral Health Plan 2020-25 includes measures to address them.