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DTA Foundation Grant Chat: Using Social Media to Improve Oral Health For Those With Disabilities In Missouri

Today, there is an oral health disparity between intellectual/developmental disabilities and those without intellectual/developmental disabilities. The Missouri Department of Mental Health, Division of Developmental Disabilities’ program to increase awareness of the importance of oral health among caregivers hopes to change that. Thanks to your generous donations, a $25,000 DTA Foundation Impact Change Grant will help the department use social media messaging to inform and advocate for dental services for those with disabilities.

Recently, we sat down with Leslie D. DeGroat, RN, the clinical coordinator for state operated programs, to find out more about the Missouri program and how other states can implement a similar one.

Why is it important to increase awareness of dental services/care for those with disabilities using media messaging? 

Part of the goal of our project is to reach as many people as possible to promote the importance of oral health and its impact on physical health. Social media is something that most people access daily, and therefore we’ve chosen that venue to disperse our messages. The messages will be accessible in an audio/visual manner through short videos, as well as an audio manner through the podcasts.  Currently there is an oral health care disparity between people with intellectual/developmental disabilities (I/DD) and people without I/DD.  People with I/DD may have multiple health problems that require a special approach to dental care.  As social media messaging is such a popular method of sharing information, it will be easier to reach more people for educating on oral health and techniques on how to assist others with their oral care. 

What is your ultimate goal with this program? 

Our ultimate goal with this program is to enhance perceptions and attitudes about oral health, increase the awareness of the relationship between oral health and general health, and change individual behavior. We believe that by doing so there will be improved oral and general health for Missourians with intellectual/developmental disabilities, as a result of increased knowledge by family members and the direct care staff members who support them. The end result will be more people in Missouri working to have optimal oral health and hygiene, and more people who were once afraid of or uncooperative during oral hygiene to become more relaxed with it, resulting in more positive outcomes with home care and dental appointments.

How will having the DTA Foundation grant help you meet that goal? 

The DTA Foundation grant will help us meet our goal by helping us be able to fund the creation of the short videos as well as buy any needed dental care supplies for participants. We will be able to share our messages with the healthcare community and dental health community throughout the state, thus making the biggest impact.

How will this program help to improve oral health in your area? 

This program will have the potential to reach thousands of Missourians. By first sharing the media messages, we will be influencing people with I/DD, their staff members, and their families to improve their oral health practices, as well as improve their knowledge about how this will impact overall health. This will inspire more regular and routine home oral hygiene habits, which has been shown to help increase cooperation during dental visits. It has the potential to reduce the time it takes in the dentist office for routine visits, as well as decreasing more serious dental procedures that would require sedation dentistry. As the program develops we will share the messages with healthcare entities outside of the Division of Developmental Disabilities which will provide the same benefits.

What three pieces of advice would you give others considering implementing a program like yours?

One: Start with a clear vision by investing time at first in gathering information of what information caregivers report would benefit them most from receiving. 
Two: Build a team of members with diverse experiences related not only to oral care, but also of people familiar with the administrative side to fulfilling the end product.
Three: Make sure to put everything on a timeline so that you can make sure that you are progressing in a manner that stays true to the grant and to the project

Is there anything you’d like to say to the donors who make the DTA Foundation grants possible?

DTA Foundation donors, thank you so much for your generosity and making this grant possible. Your drive to help others to improve oral health care for those in need is inspiring. This grant is making possible a project that will reach so many Missourians to help them understand the importance of oral health and how it relates to overall health. It is an honor to receive this grant and to know that you have faith in our unique initiative to positively impact the health of so many people.