Childhood Caries

Jan. 1, 2009
Early childhood caries (ECC) is a major concern for our youngest patients.

by Ann-Marie C. DePalma, RDH, MEd, FAADH
[email protected]

Early childhood caries (ECC) is a major concern for our youngest patients. Dental hygienists need to enhance their skills in caries risk assessment to create a preventive program that will reduce the incidence of ECC. Debi Gerger, RDH, MPH, teaches “Pediatric Risk Assessment, Preventive Therapy and Management From Z to A” about how dental professionals can become more active in preventing ECC. This course stresses the importance of preventive therapy and the treatment related to caries balance in the oral environment. Through videos, lectures, and case studies, Debi asks participants to take a more active role in ECC prevention and treatment.

Debi's goals for the program are to:

  • Define risk assessment as it specifically relates to the pediatric patient
  • Identify the steps of a pediatric preventive therapy program as indicated by the latest research on xylitol, chlorhexidine, fluoride, and sealants
  • Describe the caries balance, CAMBRA, and minimally invasive dentistry
  • List the steps for managing the pediatric patient, including anticipatory guidance and knee-to-knee exams
  • Assess the value of the pediatric patient in a general practice.
  • Debi feels all team members would benefit from the program since it helps them understand the role of risk assessments. Once a pediatric patient is identified as low, moderate, or high risk, the team can make evidence-based decisions on the appropriate therapy and preventive measures for that patient.

In 2003, Debi was appointed as the California Dental Hygienists' Association liaison to “First Smiles,” a statewide initiative to address the “silent epidemic” of ECC. ECC is a major cause of absenteeism in schools, and Debi has become a scientific advisory board member and speaker/trainer. The California Dental Association Foundation and the Dental Health Foundation jointly awarded a four-year, $7 million grant to the program. The goal is to educate dental and medical professionals on the issues involving ECC in California. Through her work with First Smiles, Debi developed the pediatric risk assessment program so that she can spread the word nationwide.

Her program contains handouts with ready-to-use charts, tables, and reference lists. She uses PowerPoint, videos, small group activities, and Q&A sessions, all mixed with humor. Patient stories are also an important part of her message.

About Debi Gerger

Debi is a graduate of Loma Linda dental hygiene program. She received her master's of public health degree and is pursuing a doctorate of management in organizational leadership. She began in dentistry as an assistant after researching the profession in high school. She has been a faculty member in the hygiene program at Loma Linda. With her work there, she presented continuing education courses to the dental hygiene component and eventually became part of the CDHA speaker resource list. She has been employed as a clinical educator for Dentsply Professional and as a curriculum consultant for Align Technology (Invisalign). She continues to teach at several dental hygiene/dental assisting programs.

Debi is passionate about her children, and about lifelong learning. However, she is concerned about the number of hygienists who will be retiring in the next five years. She feels that although we graduate focused on our clinical contributions, dental hygienists need to challenge themselves to try new areas of the profession, such as speaker, author, educator, consultant, or manager.

Debi enjoys meeting new people during her travels. She has explored the country with many of the hygiene “locals” from her presentations. Her mission is to motivate others to reach their leadership potential. She aspires to become an organizational coach in leadership and career development.

The pediatric assessment program, along with other programs that Debi presents on tobacco cessation, aligner therapy as a minimally invasive approach to therapy, oral pathology, reviews of the California practice act, and elder/child/domestic abuse, enable her to provide that leadership on a global stage. For information on Debi's programs, contact [email protected].