Pilot study to bring more families into a dental home

March 15, 2007
Health-care providers to reach families as early as prenatal period to improve oral health care for children.

CHICAGO--The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry Foundation has announced the launch of a pilot study, Teaching Early Awareness of Child Health.

The study's aim is to improve oral health in children. The study will investigate whether providing preventive oral health information to parents early in an infant's life increases the likelihood of initiating appropriate preventive dental care by age one, as recommended by the AAPD.

Establishing a dental home, which means that a child's oral health care is delivered in a comprehensive, accessible and family-centered setting by a licensed dentist, will be a key measure of success.

The prevalence of oral disease in American children is a serious health issue. Caries are five times more common than asthma, making it the single-most common chronic disease among children with more than 40 percent of children having decay by the time they reach kindergarten. Yet 90 percent of all caries are preventable.

Today, 80 percent of tooth decay is found in 25 percent of U.S. children, with racial and ethnic minorities and low-income families having the greatest risk. Children with oral disease suffer from problems eating, speaking and attending to learning, and are at a much greater risk for subsequent decay.

In fact, children who do not visit the dentist by age one have been shown to have dental costs that are 40 percent higher during their first five years than children who do.

"Establishing a dental home is key to ensuring the overall health of the child," said Dr. Joel Berg, DDS, MS, Professor and Lloyd and Kay Chapman Chair for Oral Health in the Department of Pediatric Dentistry at the University of Washington.

"Early oral care is as beneficial and cost effective as routine vaccinations in keeping children healthy. Because children are at the highest risk for caries between the ages of one and three, preventive care needs to begin before the child's first birthday," added Dr. Berg, a study investigator and immediate Past President of the AAPD Foundation.

All parents participating in the study will receive counseling on proper oral health care. The intervention group will receive a new parent kit containing oral health supplies for both parents and their children. A follow-up survey of study participants on their child's initiation of dental treatment will evaluate the effectiveness of the study. Additionally, healthcare providers will be surveyed on their impressions of the new parent kit's impact on caregiver behavior.

New parent kit deployment is being studied at four hospitals across America:
* Columbia University Medical Center (distributed by pediatricians at well-baby visit)
* University of Washington Medical Center (distributed by pediatricians at well-baby visit)
* University of Tennessee/Crittenden Memorial Hospital (to new mothers before discharge)
* Ohio State University Children's Hospital (during prenatal counseling)

Results from the TEACH pilot study are expected in early 2008, and will be presented at the May 2008 AAPD Annual Session in Washington, D.C.

"We hope that providing this education on early preventive dental care will lead to a decline in both tooth decay and costs associated with the disease," said Dr. Berg.

The new parent kit is generously underwritten by Henry Schein, Inc., a leading global supplier of dental products.

For more information on the AAPD Foundation or the AAPD, visit www.aapd.org.