The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has awarded a $969,400 grant to Detroit Mercy Dental to develop a program that addresses maternal and infant oral health gaps in the state by connecting at-risk pregnant women to dental care during their pregnancy.
“Hormonal changes during pregnancy put women at increased risk for periodontal disease, cavities, and a condition called pregnancy gingivitis—tender gums that bleed easily,” said Mert Aksu, DDS, dean of the University of Detroit Mercy School of Dentistry. “Pregnant women with cavities can transmit cavity-causing bacteria to their infants.”
The program will operate in six pilot clinics across the state. At each site, a licensed dental hygienist will provide preventive dental care and oral health instructions while referring patients to a local dentist for long-term care.
The hygienist will see these patients during their prenatal medical visits, with a goal of normalizing oral health as part of overall health. Hygienists will care for these mothers, educate them about healthy behaviors like brushing with fluoride toothpaste, and make a plan for the mother and child to visit the dentist before the child’s first birthday.
“By seeing patients where they already are—in this case, it is mothers at prenatal visits—we can incorporate oral healthcare services as part of a comprehensive visit for the patient,” said Dough Saylor, MD, chief medical officer at Great Lake Bay Health Centers in Saginaw, one of the six pilot sites.
According to Detroit Mercy Dental, the program will increase access to dentists for pregnant women. It also will reduce adverse pregnancy outcomes related to poor oral health and decrease dental disease in infants by delaying the maternal child transmission of bacteria.
“The gap in dental insurance coverage for this population that this effort will fill is crucial to ensuring oral health,” said Kathy Stiffler, acting Medicaid director at DHHS. “Combined with the longstanding history that Detroit Mercy Dental has in helping underserved populations throughout southeast Michigan, we feel this partnership could establish a model for future programs of this nature.”