10:11 AM

Eradicating Early Childhood Caries

This year, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and other experts estimate that more than 300,000 children under the age of six, many from lower-income households, will suffer from Early Childhood Caries (ECC) and require hospitalization. These young children often have a mouthful of cavities and a potentially life-threatening bacterial infection that may cause them to seek hospitalization. Another 1.5 million children are considered at risk for ECC. Hospital resources are so limited that children requiring operating room care at one of the few hospital-based dental clinics commonly wait up to six months before receiving treatment. In the meantime, parents rely on powerful antibiotics to keep the infection in check. (Not much can be done about the pain).

Early Childhood Caries can be prevented. But to do this, young parents need the right information about the oral health of their babies and toddlers in time to prevent infection. Without access to preventive education and care, children may find themselves facing rampant cavities, a hospital stay, and residual lifelong disadvantages—such as malnutrition, school absences, and missed work.

We at the DentaQuest Institute are tackling this preventable, chronic childhood disease head on. Working in partnership with researchers at Children’s Hospital Boston, we have developed a clinical protocol for treating Early Childhood Caries that works with primary care providers and parents to improve treatment in the hospital and, most importantly, at home. This program is using education and case-management to help change behavior at home and the dental office. Where this treatment plan has been used, we have been able to reduce the percentage of young children (under 60 months) with new cavities by 69 percent; reduced those who needed treatment by 55 percent; and reduced reports of children with mouth pain by 50 percent. The DentaQuest Institute is now working to expand the ECC program to 10 dental clinics across 8 states—including MA, RI, OH, NY, FL, CA, WA and NY. In many ways, Early Childhood Caries is a parable for what plagues healthcare: small problems that turn into big problems because the right information and resources weren’t available in the first place to stop the progression. Preventive health care is part of the solution, but it means nothing unless you know how to use it.

Dr. Mark Doherty, Executive Director, DentaQuest Institute and Dr. Jay Anderson, Director of Quality Improvement, DentaQuest Institute