Thursday, February 19, 2015

Get a Head Start: Prioritizing Our Kids’ Dental Care

By Ralph Fuccillo, MA, President, DentaQuest Foundation

As Dr. Luther mentioned in his post last week, February is National Children's Dental Health Month. I’d like to highlight an oral health program for children that is seeing some exciting results, which could serve as a leading best practice when it comes to prioritizing our kids’ oral health. In this collaboration between Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, called Building Successful Collaborative State Oral Health Consortiums, we are addressing oral health disparities and promoting access to care for children.

Most infants and one year-olds in the U.S. have seen a physician, but a mere 2 percent have ever visited a dentist. Surprising to many, children who wait until age two or three to see a dentist actually experience more dental issues than those who visit a dentist on their first birthday, or when the first tooth comes in, as recommended by the American Dental Association. In an effort to change this trend, the DentaQuest Foundation and Head Start Association worked together to encourage early childhood oral health care.

Head Start offers a comprehensive preschool program to low-income children, and also provides families with relevant health information and ensures that children in the program receive regular physical and oral health check-ups.

Through a grant from the DentaQuest Foundation, the Massachusetts and Pennsylvania Head Start Associations created a three-pronged approach to encourage early childhood care for oral health, which includes:
  • Developing relationships with key stakeholders including state oral health and public health organizations;
  • Promoting oral health education; and
  • Increasing access to oral care. 

Now in the third and final year of our initiative, our Head Start partners have experienced promising successes to share in both states.

The Pennsylvania Head Start Association has done a great job of getting the word out about early childhood care. They developed effective oral health coalitions through multiple forums, which had more than 175 participants. Additionally, they've trained more than 250 individuals in the “Cavity Free Kids” curriculum, which helps children practice good oral health habits. Of these trained individuals, many are teachers, infant/toddler specialists, family advocates and more. Furthermore, to date, more than 335 Pennsylvania dentists have been educated on the importance of treating one year-old children.

The Massachusetts Head Start efforts successfully connected children to dentists, giving them a “dental home”. At the start of the initiative, only 19 percent of dentists said they treated children age one or younger. Massachusetts Head Start implemented a program called “Connect the Dots”, to help dentists and primary care doctors understand the importance of starting a dental home at an early age. At the end of the first two years of the initiative, the number of dentists in Massachusetts reporting the treatment of children at age one grew from 19 percent to almost 40 percent.

We're proud of our work with the Massachusetts and Pennsylvania Head Start Associations, but we still have more work to do if we want to meet our national goal of 75 percent of children to reach age five cavity-free. From a national perspective, Head Start programs offer a great opportunity to reach our youngest children at a critical time in their development. We are looking at the lessons learned from the work done in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, and sharing these tactics with our community partners across the U.S. By training the next generation on best practices, we are mobilizing communities to be sure all children receive the dental care they need, when they need it.

For more information on Head Start, visit (National Head Start Association) and (the Office of Head Start’s Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center). 

Friday, February 13, 2015

It’s National Children’s Dental Health Month and Here are Six Steps to a Lifetime of Healthy Smiles

By: Dr. John Luther, Chief Dental Officer and Senior Vice President, Dental Management, DentaQuest

February is not just for Valentine’s Day and cold winter weather - it’s also National Children’s Dental Health Month!

While we often focus on the importance of kids’ oral health in our work (and on this blog) we wanted to take a moment to recognize the importance of this month, and of promoting steps that can help protect the next generation of teeth.

The need for better education and care is clear:
  • In the United States, 28% of preschoolers and 51% of 6-11 year olds have cavities.
  • American children lose 52 million school hours due to oral health problems each year.
  • Dental disease is the most common chronic disease in children in the U.S.- even more common than asthma. 

From the Peach State Health Plan, our partner in Georgia, here are some simple steps that will help you set your kids up to have a lifetime of healthy teeth:

  1. Go see the dentist! There is a misconception that you don’t need to worry about healthy habits until permanent teeth are in. In reality, it begins well before that – cavity-causing bacteria can impact a lifetime of dental health, beginning with the first baby tooth. It’s important to see a dentist at least twice a year, even when those teeth just begin to grow in.

  1. Got fluoride? Believe it or not, fluoride is a crucial part of having healthy teeth - every $1 invested in fluoride saves $38 in treating tooth decay. It’s vital to not only have fluoride in your water, but to also use toothpase with fluoride. Many families are always on the go, so if you give your kids a lot of bottled water, make sure it has fluoride included.

  1. Ask your kids’ dentist about sealants. Dentists can apply sealants to permanent molars when a child is 5-6 years old – before tooth decay even begins - providing a thin layer of protective plastic coating to teeth.

  1. Snack smart. Many snacks kids love – from cookies to potato chips – are high in sugar and starch, which weaken tooth enamel. While its best to limit snacking between meals, be sure to reach for a healthy snack like yogurt, fruit or veggies.

  1. Take two! Everyone should brush their teeth twice a day for two minutes each time. Since two minutes can be an eternity for kids, play their favorite tune while you help them brush their teeth.

  1. Break the thumb-sucking habit. While most kids outgrow thumb sucking, dental problems can occur when kids start to get their permanent teeth and still suck their thumbs. Ask your pediatrician or dentist about ways to help break the habit.

We hope that these steps will help you promote oral health with your kids during this special month and beyond!

And we’d like to say thank you to our partners in Georgia for these excellent pointers. To learn more about the Peach State Health Plan, and some of the innovative work the team there is doing with Emory University, visit: