Groundbreaking state dental program significantly increases preventive services, reduces cavities among children in need
May 9, 2014
In 2000, the State of North Carolina launched “Into the Mouths of Babes,” a program designed to promote dentists and physicians using an interdisciplinary approach to reducing cavities in young, low-income children. The program has led to a significant increase in the number of children under four years old receiving preventive dental care, even as the overall numbers of children qualifying for the program has expanded by more than 30 percent.
Those are among the conclusions of a study titled “Office-Based Preventive Dental Program and Statewide Trends in Dental Caries,” published in the April issue of the journal Pediatrics.
The study was co-authored by R. Gary Rozier, DDS, MPH, professor of health policy and management at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.
“Evaluation studies conducted since the initiation of the program in 2000 have found it to substantially increase access to preventive dental services for young, high-risk children who otherwise would be unlikely to use these services in dental offices, reduce caries-related treatments and costs, avert hospitalizations and improve oral health status,” Rozier said.
The program addressed the limited access to dental care by the target populations, especially very young children, by training physicians in basic dental screening and preventive techniques that can be provided quickly and effectively during in-office well-child pediatric visits.
Rozier noted that national surveys indicated pediatric providers consider oral health to be an important part of the overall health of their patients, but were concerned that oral health services would take too much time from average office visits.
However, the program he and his colleagues co-designed allowed pediatricians and family physicians to provide a quick oral evaluation and immediate preventive care in an extremely time-efficient fashion.
The result: in a study of 920,505 five-year-old children who received clinical examinations between 1998 and 2009, tooth decay rates declined by 14 percent after 2004. The “Into the Mouths of Babes” program can be tied to these improvements in oral health seen among young children in North Carolina, particularly those most at risk for dental disease.
“Parents express a high level of satisfaction with receiving oral health services in primary medical care settings,” Rozier said. “And the number of preventive dental visits in medical settings in North Carolina reached more than 130,000 for children younger than three-and-one-half years of age statewide last year.”
The full study is available online.