Grants Target Early Childhood Caries Prevention Programs

Dentistry Today


The Canada-United States Chapter of the Alliance for a Cavity-Free Future (ACFF) has awarded 3 interprofessional grants totaling $50,000 to fund projects that will be carried out in 2017 to positively impact dental caries in children who are 6 years old and younger. This inaugural grant program aims to bring together groups outside of dentistry such as pediatrics and primary care to help underserved communities. 

Made possible through funding from Colgate-Palmolive, the grants focus on specific populations including communities with high caries needs, populations living in remote areas with limited access to dental care, disadvantaged communities such as those with low incomes, and other populations with specialized healthcare needs.

“The programs funded through this grant are outstanding examples of the interprofessional collaboration being implemented to address oral health,” said Alyssa Hayes, BDent, MSc, assistant professor of dental public health at the University of Saskatchewan College of Dentistry and Canada-US ACFF Chapter co-chair. “Only by working together can we improve the oral health of young children.”

According to the ACFF, 60% to 90% of schoolchildren and nearly 100% of adults have tooth decay, making it the most common chronic disease worldwide. In Canada, about 2.26 million school days are missed each year due to dental-related illness. In the United States, a child is 5 times more likely to seek emergency room treatment for dental problems than for asthma, often because they can’t see a dentist, are uninsured, or can’t afford routine dental care.

Early dental caries can be prevented and controlled if the multiple causative factors, namely a susceptible tooth surface, the presence of cariogenic acid-producing bacteria in dental plaque biofilm, and exposure to ingested carbohydrates and sugars, are reduced. The ACFF believes that improving access to care and addressing these factors will improve oral health among these children and has chosen this year’s grant recipients accordingly.

First, the ACFF chose “Promoting Oral Health in Primary Care: Closing the Dental Referral Loop” at Children’s Mercy Kansas City in Kansas City, Mo. This program aims to improve the process of dental referrals for children at the highest risk by expanding the role of a dedicated staff member who will help to shepherd identified children through the referral process and coordinate care between patients and providers. By February 2018, its organizers believe that 80% of children at absolute high risk for caries according to the American Academy of Pediatrics Oral Health Risk Assessment Tool will have a formal dental referral completed. 

Next, the ACFF chose “An Ontario Primary Health Care System to Support a Cavity-Free Future” from the Faculty of Dentistry at the University of Toronto and Niagara Region, Public Health, Toronto. Through a participatory action research approach, this program aims to build readiness across dentistry, medicine, public health, and government to make fluoride varnish routine primary care practice in Ontario.

The project will engage key policy and practice leaders to understand their perspectives on the challenges of adopting fluoride varnish in primary care. In collaboration with these stakeholders, the project also will develop the strategy that will be necessary to making fluoride varnish application routing primary care practice in Ontario.

Finally, the ACFF awarded a grant to “Online Parenting Forums: Drawing Implications for Caries Prevention from Parents’ Perspectives of Childhood Decay and Dental Expertise” at the University of Calgary. This research project seeks to better understand online parenting forums in relation to early childhood caries.

In-person sessions with parents recruited from online forums will focus on how parents use these forums, their perceptions of trust and expertise online, and what supportive role health professionals might play in these forums. Findings from these sessions will be used to better inform the role of public health professionals in enhancing early childhood caries prevention efforts.

“Disparities in dental caries experience and access to care exist all across North America,” said Margherita Fontana, DDS, PhD, professor at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry and Canada-US ACFF Chapter co-chair. “We believe these programs will have a significant short- and long-term impact in our understanding of how to reduce these disparities.”

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