Children’s Oral Health Center Opens in Seattle

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SEATTLE, Aug. 19—At Thursday’s ribbon cutting ceremony, the Center for Pediatric Dentistry, created to address the growing epidemic of childhood dental disease, announced the grand opening of its facility on September 1, 2010. The Seattle-based institute is the first of its kind in the country, providing pediatric dental care, education for dentists and medical professionals, research, and policy under one roof.

An estimated 28 percent of all US toddlers and preschoolers are affected by Early Childhood Caries (ECC), which is the appearance of tooth decay in young children. Tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease—five times more common than asthma. More than 51 million school hours are lost every year to dental-related issues, and in the long term, dental disease can be associated with serious illnesses including heart disease and stroke.

Tooth decay is highly preventable through early dental visits, healthy nutrition, and home care. In addition to causing unnecessary pain and suffering, tooth decay impacts the learning, development, self-esteem, and quality of life of children who are afflicted by this disease, sometimes lasting into adulthood. Access to regular care is critical to solving this oral health issue.

“We are seeing an alarming increase in Early Childhood Caries, or ECC. It is truly a national health crisis,” said Dr. Joel Berg, director of The Center for Pediatric Dentistry. “This trend, coupled with a shortage of pediatric dentists, educational facilities, and integrated policy approach were the primary reason and driving force behind the formation of The Center for Pediatric Dentistry. In King County alone there is a four-month wait for a child needing oral surgery to repair many teeth. Soon after its opening, The Center for Pediatric Dentistry will reduce that wait time to one week.”

The Center for Pediatric Dentistry is a joint partnership between the University of Washington, Seattle Children’s, Washington Dental Service, and its Foundation. It is located in the newly renovated 28,000-sq ft Washington Dental Service building for Early Childhood Oral Health. Outfitted with the latest in modern dentistry equipment and practices, the institute will provide dental care, as well as educate parents, dentists, physicians, and policy makers on infant and childhood oral health. The new facility will have the ability to handle 40,000 patient visits annually, serving children from birth to age 21, with an emphasis on early childhood—birth to age 3.

“The Center for Pediatric Dentistry will serve as a leader in early childhood oral health, working to improve the health of children throughout the region, the country, and the world,” said Dr. Tom Hansen, CEO of Seattle Children’s. “We are pleased to partner with the University of Washington on this important initiative.”

“I am thrilled by the successful creation of The Center for Pediatric Dentistry,” said Phyllis Wise, provost and interim president of the University of Washington. “Interdisciplinary research and collaboration, exemplified by The Center’s approach, continue to increase in importance. The Center’s efforts to deliver care more effectively, especially to those most at risk, coupled with an emphasis on discovery, are at the heart of the University of Washington’s mission. We have an unprecedented opportunity here to lead the national effort to combat disease and improve the lives of our children at home and abroad. I applaud the work of the experts and partners at The Center for Pediatric Dentistry.”

“We need a giant step forward in disease reduction and we believe that this Center will be the catalyst,” said Laura Smith, president and CEO of the Washington Dental Service Foundation. “This is a unique opportunity to address early childhood oral disease through a multi-pronged approach: expanding the available care to prevent and treat, research on more effective ways to deliver care and focus on those children most at risk, engaging medical providers in prevention by ensuring that their education includes oral health, and identifying needed public policy.”

In November 2007, Washington Dental Service and Washington Dental Service Foundation gave the largest combined oral health-related grant in Washington—$5 million—to help finance The Center for Pediatric Dentistry.

In addition to getting an oral health screening by the first birthday, there are some other common sense steps parents should follow to protect their child’s baby teeth during the critical early years:

  • Beginning at birth, wipe your baby’s gums with a washcloth or piece of gauze after feeding.
  • Brush your baby’s teeth with a soft toothbrush twice daily as soon as you see the first tooth, usually around six months.
  • Using just a small amount of fluoridated toothpaste—the size of a grain of rice—try putting your child’s head in your lap to make it easier to brush their teeth.
  • Avoid constant snacking on sticky or starchy foods or sipping sweet liquids throughout the day.
  • Choose healthy snacks such as cheese, fruits, or vegetables. Avoid snacks that are sugary, starchy, or sticky. 
  • If you put your baby to bed with a bottle, fill it with water.
  • Ask your dentist or physician about fluoride varnish, a quick and effective way to help prevent cavities and even reverse early decay.

For more information on the Center for Pediatric Dentistry, call (206) 543-5800.

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