Researchers Aim to Improve Parental Perceptions of Baby Teeth

Dentistry Today


Many parents don’t give their children’s baby teeth much thought, since they eventually fall out and are replaced by permanent teeth anyway. Yet healthy primary teeth are early predictors of healthy adult teeth, according to researchers led by the Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) School of Dental Medicine who want to change those parental perceptions.

“Parents’ failure to recognize the importance of baby teeth is associated with adverse health habits and outcomes for their children, such as less tooth-brushing and a lower likelihood of having preventative dental visits and higher rates of tooth decay,” said Suchitra Nelson, PhD, assistant dean of the school’s Department of Community Dentistry and research leader. 

The researchers are conducting ongoing, randomized clinical trials testing oral health behavior interventions to change outcomes. Also, the researchers are examining the perceptions of chronic tooth decay and cavities between parents who did and who did not believe baby teeth were important.

One approach used in self-managing chronic medical conditions is the Common Sense Model of Self-Regulation, a psychological framework describing the person’s perception of a chronic disease that drives coping and action planning. In other words, changing parental perception is fundamentally important to viewing cavities and decay as a chronic disease, rather than an acute symptomatic disease, to improve dental outcomes.

According to the dental school, dental issues more disproportionately and adversely affect children in lower-income households. About $450 million was spent nationally on preventable dental conditions on children enrolled in Medicaid from the ages of one to 20 years between 2010 and 2011.

Furthermore, the researchers believe that the Common Sense Model behavioral intervention can reach a wider audience, including parents, providers, and primary-care practices, to change perceptions about baby teeth and general improve the oral health of children.

The study, “Do baby teeth really matter? Changing parental perception and increasing dental care utilization for young children,” was published by Contemporary Clinical Trials.

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