Research shows that up to 90% of children across the globe deal with untreated dental caries.
These youngsters face the potential for long-term and short-term consequences: worsening pain and discomfort that intensifies without treatment, and difficulties eating, sleeping, learning, playing if the problem persists. Left untreated, the circumstances can be severe enough to necessitate surgery.
These adverse outcomes are discouraging, since they’re easily preventable with proper education.
As such, there’s really no substitute for providing quality education on this growing issue. And since not all families in the United States and Canada have consistent access to dental care, this education often comes from nurses, teachers, and social workers.
However, there are two crucial caveats:
Recently, a first-of-its-kind study published in the journal BMC Oral Health assessed the effectiveness of childhood dental advice given to expectant parents and parents with toddlers by non-dental professionals (such as teachers, social workers) on children's oral health.
Alarmingly, these researchers’ findings suggest that this non-professional advice yields mixed results.
In this study, researchers analyzed five databases, seeking out quantitative studies that assessed the success of dental interventions by non-dental professionals. The interventions were focused on expectant mothers and mothers of toddlers.
All of the nine chosen studies measured the following results:
The goal of this research was discovering if current mother-centric oral health programs are generating positive results. Researchers also wanted to discern the comprehensiveness of these programs, and whether they lack education that could be valuable to patients’ dental health.
The results were decidedly mixed. When the mother was guided by a well-rounded team of specialists (e.g., social workers, nurses, and dental professionals), the toddlers had fewer dental caries and extractions compared to toddlers with mothers not receiving guidance. The results were more positive when childhood dental advice was paired with free dental supplies such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, mouthwash, and interdental aids.
However, while the children of mothers with teams guiding them got off to a great start, these positive results don't continue after toddlerhood. Most of the mothers making use of these programs lacked a fundamental understanding of dental-related issues.
Additionally, there appears to be a lack of cohesiveness in dental education shared by non-dental professionals. Issues with accuracy and omitted details were both prevalent.
Despite a lack of statistical support, it is clear from the results that these programs do help many families who wouldn’t otherwise have access to care. However, it is also evident that such programs would benefit from greater involvement from dentists, registered dental hygienists, and other dental professionals.
As a dental professional, our success in enhancing these younger patients’ outcomes is predicated on how well we communicate with the non-dental professionals involved in their care. Dental professionals can provide accurate and viable information about dental hygiene best practices and preventative care that ensure families in these programs receive correct information and cohesive guidance.