A Pittsburgh-based foundation has distributed $1 million to five West Virginia groups to improve dental health across the state.
Valley Health of Huntington received the largest grant - $600,000 - from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.
Valley Health plans to launch a statewide public awareness campaign about oral health. The group also will train pediatricians and nurses.
"For too long, we have neglected informing West Virginians of the impact of dental disease and how it relates to malnutrition as well as a number of other conditions, such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, low birth-weight babies and hypertension," said Dan Brody, a dentist who will lead Valley Health's education campaign.
Recent studies have ranked West Virginians' oral health as among the worst in the nation.
"Our challenge will be to provide results-driven education to our entire state, eliminating the disappointing stereotypical image of our population," said Bobbi Jo Muto, a Valley Health spokeswoman. "This grant will allow us to educate West Virginians on the importance of proper oral hygiene and how it affects the overall health of a person."
Also receiving grants were the West Virginia Head Start Association in Wheeling, New River Health Association in Fayette County, Healthy Kids and Families Coalition in Charleston, and Shenandoah Valley Medical System in Martinsburg.
The Head Start group received $225,000 to train staff members and the parents of preschool children about dental health over the next three years. The initiative will focus on preventing cavities and keeping regular dentist appointments.
New River Health Association, which serves Nicholas, Fayette and Raleigh counties, will use its Benedum grant money to develop plans for dental programs in its clinics.
The Healthy Kids group plans to bring dentists and other oral-health workers together to identify oral-health policy issues.
The Martinsburg health organization received $25,000 to assess oral-health needs in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle.
To contact staff writer Eric Eyre, use e-mail or call 348-4869.