Monday, August 19, 2013

The Most Common Chronic (Preventable) Childhood Disease

By Dr. Rob Compton, Executive Director, DentaQuest Institute

It always surprises people when I tell them that dental disease is the most common chronic illness of childhood—four times more common than asthma. While most people couldn't imagine a 2 year old with a mouthful of cavities, it is a sad reality for many.  Aggressive dental disease in very young children (1-5 years old) is called Early Childhood Caries (ECC). Typically, children with ECC end up in hospital operating rooms for oral surgery (which often involves anesthesia, root canals and stainless steel crowns). This is a very scary experience for such young children and their families. It’s also upsetting for the dentist to have to do oral surgery on babies. 

Early childhood caries is a significant public health problem. It is caused by bacteria in the mouth. 

The standard treatment is to repair the child’s teeth, usually in the operating room. The problem here is that after this aggressive treatment, many children return within a year with new cavities in their mouths and in need of additional surgery. What is happening is that we’re treating the symptoms of the disease but not fixing the root cause. 

To combat this problem and turn the tide on the spread of ECC, the DentaQuest Institute partnered with Boston Children’s Hospital and St. Joseph Hospital for Specialty Care in Rhode Island in the Early Childhood Caries (ECC) Collaborative. Our goal has been to add a strong dose of preventive education and disease management to the way we treat these young and vulnerable patients before and after surgery. 

As this video shows, we are piloting this new methodology in hospital-based dental clinics and dental safety net dental programs across the U.S. It is exciting to see that this approach is reducing the need for treatment in the operating room and reducing the return of the disease after surgery.  

We are now recruiting for additional dental programs to join Phase III of this Initiative, as we expand the project to up to 30 sites. They will also test the proven clinical protocols, educational materials and practices from the previous phases. If you are a dental program that would like to participate, please contact us for more information.

I’ll close with a word of advice to parents, grandparents and caregivers:  ECC is largely preventable with dental care and education.  Be sure the children in your life get a first dental checkup soon after their teeth start coming in. Your dentist will alert you to the baby’s risk for dental disease and give you tips on what to do to keep the young teeth healthy. 

We have great hope that through the work of our partners in the Early Childhood Caries Collaborative, we will put an end to childhood’s most common chronic illness!