Improve pediatric oral health

I entered a pediatric dental residency program hoping to develop the skills necessary to treat my patients’ oral health needs. However, two months into the program, I began to realize that the standard “drill and fill” method of delivering care often taught in pre-doctoral dental schools was inadequate. Social, medical, and physical variables contribute to the multifactorial nature of pediatric dental caries. As a maternal and child health (MCH) leadership trainee, I will be able to address the finer details of these challenges to improve pediatric dental care in high-risk populations.

“Access to care” is a flashy phrase used for many areas of health, including dentistry. That phrase should be rephrased—we want access to quality care. When evaluating the success of a program or new protocol, increasing access to care is not good enough. The care that is being delivered must be evidence-based and appropriate for the specific population being treated.

Not many people realize that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 addressed oral health. Money will be allocated for oral health education and school-based sealant programs. While it’s great to see value placed on these dental topics, the execution of the programs will determine their success. Multidisciplinary leaders can help ensure that these programs reach the right people in the right way. Collaboration among schools, media, health professionals, administrators and community members is mandatory. My MCH training is teaching me the skills necessary to manage such collaboration.

Recently, community health centers (CHCs) have been receiving increased Federal funds to expand and build new facilities. With my MCH training, I hope to help CHCs follow best-practices in dentistry. As a dental specialist, I hope to increase the options a CHC dentist has when faced with a complex pediatric dental patient.

Many of my peers in the dental profession have questioned the value of an enhanced dental specialty degree that includes MCH training. Surprisingly, they have a difficult time understanding how learning more about familial health determinants could be of use in a dental clinic. This illustrates one of the major challenges the dental profession faces. Dental school curriculum historically has not addressed the need for collaboration with physicians, community organizations, or health centers. While change is occurring, there is still plenty of work to be done.

James Cannava
Pediatric Dentistry Trainee
University of Washington

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About mch75

Maternal Child Health
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