JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - When many Missourians think of August, they think of heat and humidity, but health advocates hope the month soon will come to be associated with toothbrushes and dental floss.

"For the first time, the Missouri Legislature officially recognized August as Oral Health Awareness Month. While the state has a long way to go," said dentist Bethany Baillargeon, Dental director at the Community Health Center of Central Missouri. "This represents a positive step."

"Showing people that this is something we need to focus on in our state," she said, "this is something that people need to know is a problem and is something that is important for your overall health."

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks Missouri 47th in the nation for its residents' lack of access to oral health care, while the Pew Charitable Trusts gives the state a grade of "C" for children's oral health and a "D" for the use of dental sealants.

Baillargeon said she thinks many Missourians see care of their teeth and mouth as priorities that always can be put off, but added that neglecting oral health sends patients to emergency rooms every day and can ultimately make all sorts of other ailments worse.

"Heart disease or diabetes, especially," she said. "Just having chronic infection can make a person not feel well at all. I think, definitely, trying to get people aware that having that poor oral health can definitely affect your overall health."

During the 2014 legislative session, lawmakers approved adding $48 million to Missouri's Medicaid budget to restore dental coverage for adults. But Gov. Jay Nixon has put the initiative on hold because of concerns over inadequate state revenue.

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Courtesy of Mona Shand of Missouri News Service