Here's smiling at you, kid

March 1, 2009
The dental and dental hygiene communities are not the only health–care groups that realize that more than 52 million hours of school are lost each year because of dental problems.

by Kristine A. Hodsdon, RDH, BS
[email protected]

The dental and dental hygiene communities are not the only health–care groups that realize that more than 52 million hours of school are lost each year because of dental problems. Or that 40% of children from families at or below the federal poverty line have tooth decay by the time they reach kindergarten.

Consider these*:

  • In 2000, the U.S. Surgeon General released the report “Oral Health in America” to raise awareness of the “silent epidemic” of dental and oral disease.
  • In May 2003, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) developed a policy statement, “Oral Health Risk Assessment Timing and Establishment of the Dental Home.”
  • In 2004, the AAP established the “Oral Health Initiative” to address children's oral health issues.
  • As part of the AAP's Peds 21 Symposium Series, it hosted “Oral Health in the 21st Century: Something to Smile About — Pediatrician's Role in Oral Health,” which took place on Oct. 10, 2008.
  • In November 2008, the AAP announced a new policy statement titled “Preventative Oral Health Intervention for Pediatricians.”

The “Preventative Oral Health Intervention for Pediatricians” recommends training for primary care pediatricians, family physicians, residents in pediatrics or family practice, and allied health professionals treating children. The AAP has established an online program, “Oral Health Risk Assessment: Training for Pediatricians and Other Child Health Professionals” and a preceptorship program. These programs are designed to provide individualized one–on–one training in performing oral health risk assessments, maternal/caretaker oral assessment interviews, and to teach the application of fluoride varnishes.

A dental home

Interesting, one of the underlying foundational principles of the Oral Health Initiative is the concept of a “dental home” and ensuring that all children are referred to a dentist (dental home) who provides an oral health examination. The AAP defines a dental home as “a specialized primary dental care provider within the philosophical complex of the medical home.” Considering the current and proposed oral health workforce models, arguably, this is a limiting definition. Yet, it's a start.

Let me first say Bravo! to all the corporate sponsors of the AAP's Peds 21 Symposium Series (AR Medicom, Inc., Delta Dental/Washington Dental Service Foundation, Henry Schein, P&G Professional Oral Health, and Philips Sonicare), associations (American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry Foundation), and individuals passionately involved in this collaborative endeavor.

Now, it's hygiene's turn.

Clinically speaking, this provides tremendous opportunities for dental hygienists to further partner and even mentor the medical world. Many pediatric offices will begin to apply fluoride varnishes, and who better than dental hygienists to coach them in cariology, caries risk assessment, and preventive strategies?

Actions that we can take on a local level are to contact/visit local pediatricians in our area. Introduce ourselves and share our willingness to support them on their oral health journey. Or, we may decide to schedule a dinner–and–learn or a lunch–and–learn at our offices and invite local pediatric practitioners. We can prepare and deliver a short presentation focusing on the needs of children and the value of creating oral health collaborations. Lastly, we may even invite our favorite sales representatives who have preventive products that a medical office may need to learn about and purchase.

This is an opening not only to partner with pediatricians and champion children, but to continue to challenge the traditional definitions of a “dental home” and spread the value of dental hygienists as preventive specialists.

* See the February edition of RDH eVillage for columns, links, and additional resources.