OKLAHOMA CITY -- In order to aid the process of decreasing early childhood tooth decay in Oklahoma, and to provide graduating dentists from the University of Oklahoma College of Dentistry with the knowledge and experience to assist in this effort, the College’s Division of Pediatric Dentistry started an Infant Oral Health Clinic in the summer of 2018.
In the United States, tooth decay is the most common chronic infectious disease of children, with more than one in four children suffering from it before they start kindergarten. Left untreated, tooth decay in children can progress to toothaches and infections and may compromise a child’s health, development and quality of life.
While tooth decay is preventable, a recent national survey conducted on behalf of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) revealed that only 26 percent of U.S. parents took their children to the dentist by their first birthday, the age recommended by the AAPD and the American Dental Association. While 96 percent of parents say oral health is important for their children, many do not think toothaches are a serious ailment, with 31 percent ranking toothaches as the least serious ailment compared to upset stomachs, earaches, headaches and sore throats. That thinking may be one of the many reasons why early childhood tooth decay is so common in Oklahoma, particularly in non-fluoridated rural areas of the state.
Infants and toddlers from one to three years of age are now being scheduled in OU Pediatric Dentistry clinics so that dental students gain hands-on experience and skills in examining, diagnosing and treating very young children. Under pediatric dentistry faculty supervision, dental students conduct oral health evaluations, provide preventive treatments and counsel parents, providing them with infant/toddler oral health prevention strategies and education. Parents are taught how and when to effectively brush and floss their children’s teeth and are provided with a comprehensive tooth decay prevention plan. In the event that the child has tooth decay, the parent is provided with treatment options, such as applying fluoride varnish or silver diamine fluoride to the lesions with frequent re-evaluations to determine the effectiveness of the treatment and/or referring the child for definitive restorative care. In the past year, the 52 infants and toddlers have been examined in the program.
According to Tim Fagan, D.D.S., M.S., head of the Division of Pediatric Dentistry, the program is considered a win-win situation for both the community-at-large and the College of Dentistry.
“The community benefits because this is a low-cost program that teaches parents preventive measures and care to raise their infants and toddlers to have a healthy mouth and teeth,” Fagan said. “The program provides oral health education to prevent dental problems and parents leave more informed on how to do so with their kids. The earlier the dental visit, the better the chance there is in preventing dental problems. It is hoped that ultimately the community will benefit via a reduction in the occurrence of early childhood tooth decay and less expenditures on dental restorative costs.”
Students participating in this program benefit by actual hands-on experience with infants and toddlers. “In the past, the students have received lectures about infant oral health care, but this program, for the first time, allows the students an opportunity to apply what they’ve learned in lectures with an actual infant or toddler,” Fagan said. “Plus, it allows for ‘one-stop’ service where a parent can get all the dental treatment their children might need at one convenient location.”
An objective of the program is for every graduating dentist to leave with the skills and expertise to effectively provide this service wherever they practice. As more dentists with this skill set spread across the state and help parents prevent dental problems in their infants and toddlers, it is hoped that Oklahoma will experience a reduction in the occurrence of early childhood tooth decay within the state. As this program grows, plans are to incorporate dental hygiene students in the “preventive” portion of the program so that they too will feel comfortable working with infants and toddlers and their parents upon graduation. Eventually, medical students and residents might also rotate through the program to learn dental preventive skills, so as to counsel the parents of the infants and toddlers that they will see in their medical practices.
Appointments in the Infant Oral Health Clinic can be made by calling (405) 271-2360.
The OU College of Dentistry is home to the state’s only doctor of dental surgery program and baccalaureate degree program in dental hygiene. More than 60 percent of the state of Oklahoma’s dentists are graduates of the OU College of Dentistry. The college provides general dental care and specialty care to Oklahomans through student, resident and faculty practice clinics. The OU College of Dentistry has established a reputation of training its students to provide the highest quality of clinical care available.