Oral health strategies including School Sealant Programs (SSP) and Community Water Fluoridation (CWF) are proven to prevent cavities and save money and are key components of Virginia’s oral disease prevention programs. Oral Health Surveillance including data collection, analysis, and reporting is also an important aspect of Virginia’s Dental Health Program. Additionally, medical – dental integration is a focus as oral health is an important part of overall well-being.
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) funding allowed VDH to establish SSPs in the State’s most underserved areas. However, there is more work to be done. Of the 618 schools in Virginia that qualify for SSP inclusion, the SOHP could only provide services in 139 (22.5%) schools in 2016-2017 with existing resources. Expanding the availability of SSPs is necessary to improve access to this cost-effective means of dental decay prevention. VDH will expand the reach of existing SSPs and support the implementation of new SSPs through safety-net providers.
Currently, over 96% of Virginians served by community water systems receive optimally fluoridated water. A resurgence of challenges to CWF threatens this public health practice in Virginia and requires coordinated efforts to educate local decision makers during challenges. Increasing educational opportunities for waterworks operators and local municipalities before a challenge is critical to maintaining CWF statewide. Furthermore, with new and emerging methods of fluoridating that are less costly and easier to administer, opportunity exists to target the 500+ systems that do not fluoridate because of the costs and complexity of adding the supplement to the water. VDH will continue to provide education and trainings on CWF, monitor and report water systems data, and support localities by providing resources, to include funding, for CWF initiations and updates.
Virginia maintains a robust oral health surveillance system. VDH will continue to collect data including basic screening surveys of target populations on a rotating, five-year schedule. Oral Health related questions will be added to statewide surveys to collect additional data. Surveillance plans, burden documents and other data related resources will be evaluated and updated. Data will be reported and shared internally and with stakeholders to inform program planning and policy priorities.
Virginia has a proven history of implementing successful medical-dental collaborative efforts and is fortunate to have the institutional knowledge of staff and partners and Virginia specific best practices to draw from in the creation of a new program aimed at developing a bi-directional referral system that addresses oral diseases and chronic disease, as well as related risk factors. This program will encourage hypertension screening and counseling, including tobacco cessation counseling by dental professionals, oral cavity examination by primary care physicians, and active referrals between the two healthcare providers in safety-net settings.
Advisory panels, consisting of oral health and chronic disease stakeholders, will provide oversight to projects throughout the project period. VDH will also convene a diverse group of stakeholders in an evaluation workgroup to gather data and monitor progress toward project outcomes that include decreasing dental caries, oral health disparities, and other co-morbid chronic diseases associated with poor oral health.