LEXINGTON, Ky. (Jan. 12, 2012) –Rankin Skinner was a young boy working on his grandfather's farm when the spirit of volunteerism and helping others was first instilled in him, as he saw neighbors helping neighbors sowing, growing and harvesting crops.
Skinner, a 1969 graduate of the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry, has dedicated his life - and his passion for dentistry - to the people of Kentucky and far beyond. "I learned you can't just be involved in your own life, you have to help out others in need," Skinner said. "A life of service is where you are happiest and it's a part of my life."
Skinner's dentistry career began with the U.S. Navy right after graduation from the College of Dentistry until he went into private practice in Winchester, Ky., in 1971. Over the course of the past 40 years, Skinner has been actively involved with countless volunteer organizations, including Partners of the Americas, an international network that connects individuals, volunteers, institutions, businesses and communities to serve others through lasting partnerships.
In 2002, Skinner and fellow volunteers with Partners started the Kentucky/Ecuador Dental Sealant Project, working with 15 clinics in the capital city of Quito and another 15 clinics in Winchester's Sister City of Ibarra and its surrounding communities.
Dental decay in Ecuador is in the 85 percent range compared to 22 percent in the U.S., although its about 50 percent in Kentucky and significantly higher in some areas of the state. Skinner's group trained 65 dentists to place sealants, and later, fluoride varnish, in each of these cities. After five years, a dramatic 50 to 78 percent drop in decay was noted.
It was Skinner's successful work in Ecuador that led to another opportunity for service. On Christmas Day in 2007, in response to an article in the New York Times concerning the poor dental health of Kentuckians, a local member of the Clark County Community Foundation proposed that they try to duplicate what had been done in Ecuador in Clark County. Skinner spent the next two days drawing up a plan which would involve a partnership with the Winchester Dental Society, the Clark County Health Department, the Clark County Community Foundation and Clark County Schools.
The plan was to apply fluoride varnish with amorphous calcium phosphate (ACP), a product he describes as 'the best preventive tool for caries in my lifetime,' on all students in preschool through fifth grade. Initially, the decay rate was 50.42 percent, right at the state level. After the first year, a decrease of approximately 11 percent was noted, and at the end of year three of the program, the decay level was just 14.49 percent and below the national level.
"Everybody came on board after seeing the results of our work and wanted to be a part of it," he said. "When you're doing something for the right reason, things just come together."
The success of the Clark County school dental program just happened to catch the attention of Clark County resident and dental health advocate Jane Beshear, wife of Gov. Steve Beshear. She heard about Skinner's work in Ecuador and Clark County through one of Skinner's dental volunteers and soon involved the Governor.
Could something be done in Appalachia to improve dental health like what was done in Clark County? Jane Beshear thought so and went after grant money to support the work before she approached the UK College of Dentistry, well known for their extensive work providing dental care in Appalachia.
And so began the process of obtaining the $1 million grant through ARC and $250,000 in state general fund dollars so that approximately 25,000 Kentucky children in Appalachia will receive preventive oral health services through a new pilot program called Smiling Schools. As part of the Smiling Schools program, the Oral Health Program in the Department for Public Health will also conduct outreach in Eastern Kentucky to help increase public awareness of the importance of children’s dental health.
Robert Kovarik, division chief in the Division of Public Health Dentistry at the UK College of Dentistry, said the project is important because ultimately, the problem of poor oral health in our children needs to be addressed by preventing oral disease. "We were anxious to participate in this new state public health initiative as it is this kind of collaborative model that can really make a difference to children in Kentucky," Kovarik said. "This effort is a combined effort of private practitioners, government (health departments) and the University of Kentucky. Each brings special skill sets to the equation and the result is a benefit to many children."
As part of the program, UK College of Dentistry faculty will perform oral exams on a sampling of children in the pilot project prior to the first varnish application to document the initial condition of their teeth. The second treatment is applied four to six months later. Following two fluoride varnish treatments, the children will again be examined to determine the effectiveness of the varnish in stopping decay.
“Our young people already face a range of issues that distract from learning without having to worry about an aching cavity or overall poor dental health,” said Jane Beshear. “The Smiling Schools program will not only improve our children’s current dental health, but teach them the value and ease of maintaining quality dental care practices as they grow to be healthy adults.”
And for Skinner, the most recent program is again a testament to the spirit of volunteerism and what can be accomplished when a group of caring individuals come together for a good cause and "when you are doing something for the right reasons, things just come together."