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State Spotlight: Moving Mississippi Forward By Promoting a ‘Culture of Health’

In Mississippi, the prevalence of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and oral disease is a daily reality that health advocates there are working to overcome.

The link between oral and overall health is a new concept for many people. For those living in Mississippi, the complex mix of diabetes, respiratory and cardiovascular disease, cancer, and oral disease is a daily reality, one that public health advocates there are working together to defeat.

In the 2 years since returning to her home state as Director of the Office of Oral Health, Angela Filzen, DDS, has come to realize the necessity of integrating her efforts with other parts of the Mississippi state government infrastructure. The people of this state have too many problems not to address them together.

While Mississippi has been stuck near the bottom of the ladder in all of the A State of Decay reports, Dr. Filzen is building an infrastructure to change that reality. More importantly, she is working to move Mississippi forward on several health fronts.

Mississippi State Department of Health discussing the importance of providing culturally responsive care at a 4-day Cultural Competency Training in Oral Health in November 2017

The variables scored in the state rankings for A State of Decay are important in this broader effort, Dr. Filzen knows. Sometimes, though, more basic services and problems must be addressed.

Talking with communities about water fluoridation is fine, but relating the benefit of fluoridated water in reducing cavities in communities with few or no dentists is equally important. In a state where people expect to lose their teeth as they age, reducing the percentage of older adults with severe tooth loss below its current 55% is a long-term project.

The culture among some in Mississippi of not going to the dentist – exacerbated by access issues and poverty — is difficult to overcome.

To begin chipping away at these challenges, Mississippi has developed a State Oral Health Plan that calls for establishing a “culture of health that includes oral health.” Goals and objectives in this plan are guiding the efforts of state officials and stakeholders through 2021.

Grant funding is being sought to conduct an older adult Basic Screening Survey. Fact sheets have been developed on key issues impacting oral health and the link to systemic health. A community water fluoridation toolkit is being created by the Office of Oral Health to educate leaders and residents about the importance of this public health intervention.

Dr. Filzen regularly networks with dental educators, provider organizations, and other oral health stakeholders in the Magnolia State. Through strategic planning sessions, workshops, and conference calls, participants are laying the groundwork for progress.

It is truly a team effort. Dr. Filzen has drawn in key community health centers staff — senior management, pharmacists, behavioral therapists, dietitians, and nutritionists — to work with the state oral health team to change the culture of health in Mississippi. Together, they are developing a broader agenda that addresses oral health across the lifespan to make sure the needs of older adults are addressed.

To impact the problems that start with oral and systemic health challenges — and take Mississippi up the rankings in the next A State of Decay report — Dr. Filzen and her team have much work to do. With the groundwork completed thus far, this report applauds their efforts to make the most of a challenging situation.

The Wisdom Tooth Project is a program of Oral Health America