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State Spotlight: Arkansas Drops in the Latest Report, but Won’t Stay There for Long!

Arkansas’ ranking fell in the latest report, but improved rates of community water fluoridation and commitment to oral health education among invested stakeholders won’t keep them there for long.

Oral health advocates across Arkansas recognize that quality dental care is essential for a lifetime of well-being.  As we age, oral problems tend to become more prevalent as general health begins to decline and cognitive abilities deteriorate.  Inadequate training for dental health professionals and caregivers to deliver regular oral health care to older adults and a lack of access to a dental care, lead to poor oral care for aging adults. These factors affected Arkansas’ overall score in the A State of Decay report but, since the last report, interprofessional collaboration and education to providers, families, and caregivers and improved rates of community water fluoridation are reducing barriers to care for aging Arkansans.

An older adult is being fitted with new dentures at the Arkansas Mission of Mercy (ArMOM), the state’s largest free health care event

Community water fluoridation is an evidence-based public health measure that prevents the rate of tooth decay across all ages. Recognizing the impact fluoridation has on health outcomes and a relatively average community rate, the Delta Dental of Arkansas Foundation has taken an invested interest. To date, the Foundation has contributed 6.7 million dollars in grant funding – impacting nearly 32 water systems and improving the community rate in a few short years.

As a result of this concerted effort, “the community rate of fluoridation went from 66.9% (in 2012) to a current rate of 85.6% which raised Arkansas above the national average,” reported Gregory B. McClure, DMD, MPH, former President of Association of State and Territorial Dental Directors (ASTDD).

To improve oral health education across disciplines, the Delta Dental of Arkansas Foundation partnered with University of Arkansas Medical Sciences Donald W. Reynolds Institute for Aging (RIA) and the Interprofessional Education program to develop an oral health curriculum, specifically, for the elderly in retirement, assisted living, nursing homes, or homebound. The plan focuses on training aging adults, caregivers, and providers on the needs of the aging.

Medical and dental personnel will be trained to recognize oral health problems, administer preventative treatments and referrals to a dentist.  RIA is developing the training program for caregivers and seniors, which varies based on each person’s abilities.

Delta Dental of Arkansas is also pioneering the use of Silver Diamine Fluoride (SDF) as a non-invasive treatment in the aging population.  SDF is a topical fluoride which arrests caries through nonsurgical methods halting disease progression while preserving the remaining tooth structure.

“Many providers across Arkansas have begun using SDF as a form of treatment and have found it to be easy to incorporate into their dental practice,” says Dr. Robert Mason, Vice President of Professional Relations and Dental Director at Delta Dental of Arkansas. “Many case studies focus on its use on adolescents and special needs populations, but SDF has also been shown to be effective in management of root caries in the adult and elderly.”

Finally, the Arkansas Office of Oral Health and the Arkansas Oral Health Coalition are working together to update the state’s oral health plan to include recommendations of evidenced-based solutions to develop a framework to improve oral health needs of aging individuals.

Taking all this into account, Arkansas is positioned to not only improve the oral health outcomes of the aging population, but improve its ranking in the next report.

The Wisdom Tooth Project is a program of Oral Health America