Applying Preventative Oral Health Practices to Reduce Early Childhood Caries Among Preschool Children: A Quality Improvement Project
A project designed by Beth Anderson, DNP, RN, PHN
Goals of the Project
Young children are not born with an innate understanding of the importance of dental care. It is the people they interact with and trust most who can instill habits that lead to a lifetime of good oral hygiene.
But what if a child’s caregiver doesn’t understand the importance of caring for a child’s mouth and teeth? How can they gain that knowledge and then put it into action? Would it make a difference in how they approach their child’s oral care?
These are the questions that Beth Anderson, DNP, RN, PHN, set out to answer. Beth devised a project that centered around working with staff at a preschool learning center for lower income children.
Why target lower income children? We know children from a lower socio-economic status usually have limited access to dental care and therefore have a higher probability of suffering from dental caries and other oral problems. Without early intervention low-income children risk developing infections, abscesses and the attendant health and social consequences that result. These consequences include:
- Poor nutrition
- Loss of sleep
- Inability to enunciate properly
- A loss of self-esteem and confidence due to the appearance of their teeth and mouth
Beth created staff training centered around an evidence-based preventative oral health protocol. The project lasted over an eight-week period of time, including training and implementation.
She worked closely with the leadership of a preschool learning center to deliver this training to its staff. After this instruction was complete, the staff used their new learnings to guide the parents and caregivers of children aged three to five years old toward better oral practices. Throughout, Beth gathered data to monitor any quantifiable improvement in how parents and caregivers approached dental care with their young charges.
- 60% of the families completed an oral health risk assessment
- 22% of families were reached with the oral health resource guide distributed using Facebook
- 23% of these families engaged with the resource guide
- 33% of families arranged preventive oral care
- 33% of families established a dental home
- 20% of families applied for dental insurance coverage and/or were assisted with transportation to receive dental services
Staff training makes a difference
Due to the findings outlined above, Beth concluded that a well-designed oral health training program for the staff of early childhood learning centers could yield positive outcomes for preschool children and their families, both in terms of better preventative oral health practices and in the early treatment of dental problems. And it’s no secret that a child’s healthy mouth will have positive long-term health implications and may even impact their later social and academic outcomes.
Where to go from here?
When asked to identify ways to further verify the results of this project, Beth had several thoughts.
First, because this project was completed during a pandemic, it would be beneficial to apply this staff training protocol during a more normal period of school programming to see if results are impacted.
Next, it would be helpful to broaden the program to a wider number of early childhood settings, both urban and rural, to see if the positive outcomes are maintained regardless of the environment. By moving into multiple settings, it would also help determine if the staff’s passion for the project is key to engaging caregivers in the practice of better oral habits with their children.Beth Anderson
However, even if no further study is done, what this project has shown is that with some time and creativity, there are ways we can improve the dental outcomes of our youngest population.
Established in 2005, the Minnesota Oral Health Project (MNOHP) is a non-profit dedicated to improving the oral and dental health of children. MNOHP’s Crush Cavities website (susanm46.sg-host.com) addresses three key stakeholders – caregivers, clinics, and educators – and the strategies they can use to make a profound difference in the condition of young children’s teeth.
To learn more, email Beth Anderson to obtain a full copy of her paper.