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UMKC Gets Grant To Examine Oral Health Disparities Among Kansas Children

Janet Rogers

The National Institutes of Health has awarded up to $4.38 million in research money to the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s dental and nursing schools to address disparities in oral health among Kansas schoolchildren.

UMKC said in a news release that the funds will be used to examine the oral health of pre-kindergarten- through high school-aged children in mainly rural communities who get school-based care from dental hygienists. UMKC investigators will collaborate with the Kansas Bureau of Oral Health School Sealant Program.

Since 2003, Kansas has allowed dental hygienists who meet certain criteria and have a sponsoring dentist to deliver care directly to children. Missouri does not have such a program.

“This grant will hopefully show that this (Kansas) model is cost effective and improves the oral health of whoever the recipient of the care is,” said Melanie Simmer-Beck, a UMKC School of Dentistry professor and the grant’s co-primary investigator.

Currently, about three dozen states allow some form of alternative practice settings for dental hygienists, according the American Dental Hygienists’ Association.

Kansas grants what are known as Extended Care Permits that allow dental hygienists to provide dental care outside of dental offices. The idea is to provide preventive care to underserved populations who can’t always make it to a dentist’s office.

Efforts to enact similar legislation in Missouri have foundered even though there are rural counties in the state without practicing dentists.

“We have been advocating (in Missouri) for an extended access permit that would allow dental hygienists to do so much more for citizens who cannot access a dental office,” Bonnie Branson of the UMKC School of Dentistry and a past president of Missouri Dental Hygienists’ Association, said in an email. “Last year we had legislation that did not pass out of committee. That same legislation will be introduced again this year.”

According to the NIH, children from certain racial and ethnic groups or from families with low levels of education and income are much more likely than other children to develop tooth decay and other oral diseases. Hispanic and black children, for example, are about twice as likely as white children to have untreated tooth decay.

UMKC was one of 10 schools that received more than $7 million in first-year funding from NIH. The UMKC grant is for up to five years.

UMKC said its project will reach children in about 355 schools in 108 Kansas school districts.

Editor’s note: KCUR is licensed by UMKC.

Dan Margolies, editor of the Heartland Health Monitor team, is based at KCUR.

Dan Margolies has been a reporter for the Kansas City Business Journal, The Kansas City Star, and KCUR Public Radio. He retired as a reporter in December 2022 after a 37-year journalism career.
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