Blue Ridge gets $300,000 for oral health initiative

Published 1:18 pm Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Blue Ridge Community Health Services, which serves Polk and other Western North Carolina counties, has received a $300,000 grant as part of North Carolina&squo;s Oral Health Initiative.

The funds will be used to increase access to treatment and preventive services for low-income, high-need populations and to train dental and other health care providers to better serve these populations.

Blue Ridge also serves Henderson, McDowell, Transylvania and Rutherford counties. The N.C. Health and Wellness Trust Fund (HWTF) announced grant awards totaling $1,930,000 to seven organizations for the intiative.

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&dquo;It is unfortunate that many North Carolina citizens do not receive basic dental care which is so critical for overall good health,&dquo; said Vandana Shah, HWTF Executive Director. &dquo;We hope that these grant funds will provide more North Carolina citizens with access to high quality, accessible oral health care.&dquo;

Untreated oral health problems can have significant consequences on other health issues. Research has shown associations between chronic oral health infections and other serious conditions, such as diabetes, heart and lung diseases, stroke, low birth weight and premature births.

In 2006, roughly 32% of North Carolina adults reported not visiting a dentist within the last year. The rates are even higher among the state&squo;s minority populations (39% of Native Americans, 42% of African Americans and 56% of Hispanics).

In seeking oral health care, many people face financial, transportation and child care barriers, as well as the inability to leave work. These challenges are more pronounced in rural areas of the state where the number of practicing dental professionals is limited or non-existent.

Based on 2004 data, 60 North Carolina counties were considered dental health shortage areas. Also, HWTF awarded a grant for $350,000 to The Carolinas Center for Medical Excellence (CCME) to provide technical assistance as well as evaluation for the Oral Health Initiative.