Dental health organization looks to expand services

One of the United Way of Southeast Missouri's new funding partners for the next three years aims to provide or assist oral health services to adults, including the elderly.

The Oral Health Coalition of Southeast Missouri was formed nearly 15 years ago with the goal of improving dental health for children and elderly in the region. With the funding from the United Way, the organization will extend those services.

Most known for providing screenings at schools to children, the organization hopes to do more work for seniors. Missouri has lower dental visit rates and more tooth loss among adults than national trends, and oral cancer rates are also higher. The idea is to help elderly who might not have transportation to get to appointments, and to help those living in skilled nursing facilities.

Elizabeth Shelton, executive director of the Cape Girardeau-based United Way of Southeast Missouri, said all of its partners who deal with people in need frequently get requests for dental help, or it's "something that comes up later."

"It's not the thing they're seeking help for, but then they realize that this person really has some dental issues," she said. "People who get regular dental care take that for granted and don't always think about the many other health problems that dental disease can contribute to."

Dental health can be challenging to manage, especially if surgery is needed and dental insurance plans aren't available. Dental health is a subject rarely discussed, but vital to the overall health and quality of life to people. It makes sense that United Way selected oral health as one of the funding areas. We hope the money goes a long way to providing relief to those who may be suffering from poor oral health.