Empowering Physicians, Nurses, Pharmacists and Other Non-Dental Healthcare Providers to Care for the Oral Health of Children and Adolescents
Written by Travis Nelson DDS, MSD, MPH and Casey Hein BSDH, RDH, MBA
Suggested Audience: Dentists, dental hygienists
Every healthy newborn has the potential for success and good health. However, profound disparities in access to basic dental care very often have a devastating impact on the health, education, and well-being of children and adolescents.* In fact, dental caries (tooth decay) may serve as a sentinel disease for other pediatric conditions that are related to inadequate diet, poor oral hygiene and lack of dental care in childhood. Oral pain causes children to lose sleep and compromises growth. Oral health problems are also associated with a substantial reduction in school attendance, consequently diminishing learning potential. The reality for many underserved children and adolescents is that persistent oral pain, the inability to comfortably chew, and the embarrassment of discoloured and damaged teeth undermine the socialization process. As a result, unmet dental needs perpetuate low self-esteem and over time can wear down a child’s stamina—ultimately hampering the child’s dreams and ambitions. The most vulnerable are children and adolescents in populations of lower socioeconomic status, those in indigenous communities, immigrant and migrant populations, homeless families, and children with disabilities. All children and adolescents should have access to basic dental care.
Although the majority of infants and toddlers have not seen a dentist, most see physicians, nurses, pharmacists and other non-dental healthcare providers (HCPs) on a regular basis. Each of these visits is an opportunity to screen for caries and periodontal diseases (e.g., gum disease), and provide preventive services that may limit exposure to oral disease. Physicians, nurses and other non-dental HCPs also have an important role in advocating for more comprehensive and universal dental care for children.
Upon completion of this course, participants will be able to do the following:
- Describe the role of the primary care provider (PCP; e.g., physician, physician assistant or nurse) in ensuring the oral health of children and adolescents, and support the concept of the dental home.
- Describe the prevalence, etiology, clinical presentations and prevention and management of the most common dental diseases (i.e., caries and periodontal disease) in children and adolescents.
- Provide anticipatory guidance to parents regarding oral health during infancy, childhood and adolescence.
- Identify common oral abnormalities found in children and adolescents and treat or refer patients to appropriate HCPs as necessary.
- Manage oral trauma from accidents.
- Prevent infective endocarditis resulting from dental procedures in children and adolescents.
- Provide supportive care for acute dental conditions of children and adolescents living in areas underserved by dentists and dental hygienists.
- Describe successful programs that have provided access to basic dental care for