09:19 AM

Eliminating dental disease in children: U Maryland Early Childhood Caries Conference Highlights Innovations

This is a busy week for DentaQuest. On Monday through Wednesday, we have teams in California at the annual conference of the California Association of Health Plans, where participants are Charting a Path for a Healthier California.

Also this Monday through Wednesday, our Foundation is hosting the annual gathering of grantees and partners. They are working through strategies to achieve the ambitious goal of Oral Health 2020: Improving oral health across the lifespan and eliminating dental disease in children.

On Thursday, DentaQuest teams are heading to the University of Maryland School of Dentistry Innovations in the Prevention and Treatment Conference where the focus is eliminating early childhood caries (ECC), a virulent form of cavities that impacts very young children. Rob Compton, DDS, President of the DentaQuest Institute, is joining many other ECC experts; he will be sharing the models of care being developed and tested by the DentaQuest Institute’s ECC Collaborative. Additionally, the DentaQuest Foundation is a supporting sponsor of the conference.

This conference is important because it brings together organizations that have been specifically focused on the challenges of arresting and reversing early childhood caries. We are eager to hear how our colleagues are approaching this challenge.

Early childhood caries, an aggressive form of dental disease in infants and pre-school children, is a significant public health problem, especially among economically disadvantaged children.Children who suffer from ECC are often from low-income families. However, as modern families are stretched in many directions, many middle class families are also facing the challenges of this chronic disease.

The prevalence and spread of dental caries can be prevented or slowed if the disease is caught in the earliest stages. Unfortunately, the disease is often not detected until it is well established. When there is no intervention, the disease progresses until the tooth is destroyed. ECC is painful. Children have problems eating, delays in speech, and even diminished self-esteem. If the damage is severe, the child can lose teeth or require extensive surgery which may include root canals and stainless steel crowns. Even after surgery, children often return within a year (23-57 percent return within six-to-24 months) with new disease, in need additional surgery. Surgery treats the symptoms, not the factors contributing to the disease.

In 2008, recognizing an opportunity to tackle ECC using a disease management approach, the DentaQuest Institute, in partnership with Boston Children’s Hospital and St. Joseph Health Services and Hospital, launched a pilot that has focused on educating families of at-risk children about dental health and self-management. That work led to the ECC Collaborative, now in Phase III, which has been engaging dentists, pediatricians, oral surgeons, educators and community health workers in developing and testing best practices for managing chronic caries infections in at-risk infants and pre-school children. The Collaborative is focused on reducing new cavitation, reducing pain, and reducing operating room utilization in children ages 0-5.

ECC is serious. DentaQuest is excited to be part of the extraordinary collaborative learning opportunity hosted by the University of Maryland School of Dentistry. This is a public health problem that will certainly benefit from innovation and creative solutions.