How to advance children’s oral health care to improve overall health outcomes

By Dr. Arturo Brito, President & CEO, Children's Health Fund, and James W. Hutchison, President & CEO, Delta Dental Plans Association.

What inspires hope in the future more than a child with a bright, healthy smile? For the authors – a pediatrician and an oral health care executive – a healthy smile defines the future. In recognition of National Children’s Dental Health Month, we have come together to highlight the importance of advancing children’s oral health care.

Good oral health is essential to good overall health, especially for children. Research shows that a healthy smile improves social interaction, communication, and the ability to perform well in school — all of which are so important in one’s formative years.

On the other hand, poor oral health over time is linked to an increased risk of serious health issues, including heart disease and diabetes. Helping children access timely oral health care and develop good dental care habits will boost their confidence and set the stage for better overall health throughout their lives — something to which Children’s Health Fund and Delta Dental are dedicated.

As champions for equity in access to care, we are continually expanding efforts across the country to provide quality oral health care for every child through programs that:

Focus on preventive care: Cavities, also known as caries or tooth decay, are the most common chronic disease in childhood. The good news is that cavities are nearly 100% preventable. And while good oral health care starts at home, visiting the dentist before age one is also essential to improving a child’s oral health outcomes. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that a child should go to the dentist within six months of getting their first tooth — and no later than their first birthday. An early visit to the dentist can set the foundation for a lifetime of great oral health. Also, by learning healthy habits and how to care for their baby’s teeth, families can save money. Healthy mouths are important — for babies and young children, as for adults.

  • For more on how we are delivering preventive care to children, we invite you to read about Children’s Health Fund’s mobile clinics and Delta Dental’s Dentist By 1 Program.

Enable greater collaboration between pediatricians and dentists: New research shows that increasing communication between dental and medical providers reduces barriers to care. In fact, medical-dental integration improves positive health outcomes in vulnerable populations, such as at-risk children, pregnant women, seniors, and those in need of chronic disease management. When implemented successfully, care delivery models that rely on collaboration and integration between primary and dental care teams can create more inclusive approaches that help the health care system work better for everyone.

Create more pathways to care, especially for historically underrepresented groups: In the United States, stark disparities and inequities make it hard for historically underrepresented groups to access and afford oral health care for their children. As a result, children from low-income and minority families have poorer oral health outcomes, fewer dental visits, and fewer protective sealants, all of which are unacceptable — and all of which we are working to change.

  • Leveraging our national network of partners, Children’s Health Fund is taking meaningful action to fill critical gaps in dental care for historically underrepresented groups through our mobile units — dental offices on wheels — that routinely visit communities where care is either inaccessible or too costly.
  • This year, the Delta Dental Institute will launch a campaign to advance a more diverse oral health workforce. Research shows that racial and ethnic diversity among health professionals is linked to improved outcomes and greater health equity. As the nation’s oral health leader, Delta Dental has a responsibility to contribute to more equitable health outcomes, and we are committed to continually addressing the needs of the diverse communities we serve. We will share more information about the campaign in the coming weeks.

We believe our combined efforts are critical to ensuring better overall health for our children and a brighter future for our country. We call on our fellow health industry leaders to continue to partner, collaborate, and engage in new and innovative thinking to help create greater health outcomes for children.

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