Did you know that the American Academy of Pediatricians and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentists recommend that all children have their first dental visit by age 1?
Studies show that there is a substantially greater risk of developing dental decay for children who don’t receive dental care in their early years. The Women, Infant and Children Program (WIC) clinics are an ideal place to develop community partnerships to provide preventive oral health services to WIC participants and to ensure infants receive their first dental visit before their first birthday and that pregnant women and children have reduced barriers to receive oral health care.
Community Action Program Belknap-Merrimack Counties Inc. (CAP) has been collaborating with New Hampshire Division of Public Health Services Oral Health Program and the State Medicaid Program on the Pay for Prevention project. The aim of this project is to improve the oral health of pregnant women and children (0-5 years) by collocating oral health services at WIC clinics and to demonstrate that paying for preventive oral health care is less expensive and more effective than dental care after problems occurred.
The project is being evaluated by Richard Niederman, DMD, New York University College of Dentistry, Chairman of the Department of Epidemiology and Health Promotion.
The Pay for Prevention project has been generously funded by the HNH Foundation, Jessie B. Cox Foundation, New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and Northeast Delta Dental Foundation. The project provides on-site preventive oral health services including oral health education, screening, fluoride varnish, dental sealant application and interim therapeutic restorations at the Concord and Keene WIC clinics.
The follow-up care is coordinated by the hygienists with local dentists. An important part of the project is to encourage all participants to establish a dental home.
New Hampshire presents unique opportunities to sustain oral health preventive services for WIC clients. Less restrictive supervision laws allow hygienists to work without a dentist present to provide services to participants at WIC sites.
In New Hampshire, hygienists who become Certified Public Health Dental Hygienists can provide an expanded scope of services to their patients. This reduces program costs, eliminates transportation barriers, and, when care is provided in familiar WIC settings, decreases fear of going to the dentist.
CPHDHs provide services using portable equipment at the WIC sites. Quarterly WIC visits allow hygienists to meet frequently with enrolled pregnant women, infants and young children. Frequent follow-up visits reinforce oral health messages and increase the likelihood that poor oral health behaviors can improve.
Oral health education received by the families is one of the most important parts of the program. Another key element of the project will be to evaluate if the funds received from billing the Medicaid program allow the project to be self-sustaining.
“Parents are choosing to make ‘frequent return dental visits’ to the WIC clinic sites,” said Mary Davis, Certified Public Health Dental Hygienist. “This opportunity reinforces oral health messages, increases the likelihood that poor oral health behaviors will improve and provides valuable education. The WIC dental visit provides a familiar setting for parent and child to become comfortable with a positive dental experience! Early intervention is key to preventing dental disease.”
To learn more about Pay for Prevention project or the other oral health services at WIC in New Hampshire, contact Susan Wnuk at firstname.lastname@example.org. Wnuk is the Director of Community Health and Nutrition Services at Community Action Program Belknap Merrimack Counties and a contributing member of The Capital Area Wellness Coalition.
The wellness coalition coordinates community resources and builds partnerships to create a culture of healthy living for everyone. The CAWC meets monthly on the second Wednesday at 8 a.m. at the Center for Health Promotion, 49 S. Main St. Visit capwellness.org to learn more.