On Monday, May 17, State of North Carolina health officials announced a new “NC Oral Health Improvement Plan,” which, as the name suggests, is a plan to improve the oral health of people in the state.

The plan, which was released by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, is really a combination of plans from 10 regions across the state.  It  tailors strategies to the specific needs of communities in order to achieve better dental health.  

The plan is also meant to address disparity issues in dental health across the state.  Not surprisingly, dental health is often worse in communities where there’s less access to dental care due to proximity of dental offices and the often high cost of dental care.

Some of the strategies to be implemented call for encouraging more dentists to enroll in Medicaid by highlighting a recent 10 percent increase in dental reimbursement rates, running public awareness ad campaigns aimed at groups – such as smokers – that are more likely to experience dental problems, increasing the number of childcare facilities that offer early intervention programs like the current “Toothbrushing Is Fun” program, and working with parents to help them stress the importance of good dental hygiene to their kids.

The new plan also strengthens the relationships of the partners involved so as to create a more cohesive and comprehensive solution to the problem – though each of the state’s10 regions will implement a plan fine-tuned to that region.

The new plan prioritizes strategies that either support dental public health programs that are already in place or helps establish proposed “targeted evidenced-based programs.”

 Some examples of the practices that state health officials say have shown to produce a reduction in tooth decay are “community water fluoridation, fluoride varnish application by both medical and dental providers, dental sealants and securing dental homes for children found to have dental needs.”

North Carolina is split up into 10 Regional Oral Health Alliances, known in state-speak as “ROHA’s.”

 Supported by the NC Oral Health Section’s public health dental hygienists, ROHA brings together health advocates in the encompassed communities and works with them to improve dental health through a wide range of strategies. According to state officials, the collaboration of the alliances played a significant role in creating the NC Oral Health Improvement Plan – with each alliance creating its own improvement proposals. Those were then combined to create the NC Oral Health Improvement Plan.

The plan includes actions meant to address “disparities among populations experiencing a disproportionate burden of oral disease and was developed in partnership with the safety net dental providers and oral health stakeholders across the state.”

According to a Monday, May 17 press release announcing the plan, this – the result of more than 200 organizations working together – is the first large-scale plan of its kind in the United States.

State officials note in the May 17 press release that dental disease can cause pain and infections and contribute to problems with eating, speaking and learning.  It can also, they point out, affect the social interactions and limit employment possibilities in some cases.

NCDHHS State Dental Director and Oral Health Section Chief Dr. Sarah Tomlinson said one key focus from now until 2025 will be on “strengthening regional partnerships as we work together to address disparities and improve oral health for our most vulnerable citizens.”