Pediatricians to Apply Fluoride Varnish in New Program

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Image courtesy of arztsamui at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Pediatricians will play a larger role in oral health thanks to a project by Case Western Reserve University funded with a $4.6 million grant from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, a branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), over the next 5 years.

“Many parents believe, since baby teeth fall out, there’s no need to take kids to a dentist,” said Suchitra Nelson, a community dentistry professor at the university’s school of dental medicine. “But cavity-causing bacteria remains even after losing baby teeth and can lead to problems persisting beyond childhood.”

During routine well-child visits, nearly 90 pediatricians in Northeast Ohio will apply a fluoride varnish to the teeth of more than 1,500 participating children. They also will deliver core oral-health messages to parents and guardians and prescribe visits to local dentists who accept Medicaid, which will cover basic dental expenses.

Northeast Ohio has one of the highest rates of untreated cavities among poor and minority children under the age of 6, Nelson said. In fact, the university notes studies that show only one in 3 children from low-income and some ethnic backgrounds visit a dentist in their early years and are more susceptible to oral diseases, including tooth decay.

“By drawing on the influence of pediatricians, we believe there’s tremendous potential to eventually reduce oral health disparities,” said Nelson.

Researchers hope to use the project to pinpoint messages that most effectively sway parents and caregivers to take their children to the dentist. They then will translate their findings into a scalable model that pediatricians could adopt across the country.

The grant is one of 10 that the NIH has awarded to reduce inequalities in access to dental care and improve pediatric oral health. Recipients will try unique approaches but work together as part of the NIH’s new Multidisciplinary and Collaborative Research Consortium to Reduce Oral Health Disparities in Children.

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