Institute for Oral Health Girl with toothbrushes



2011: Prevention: Rebranding the Profession

As caries rates reach epidemic proportions in children across America, and millions of people have unmet dental needs, the dental profession faces a greater challenge than ever before. To improve oral health nationwide, our goals are changing from finding better ways to manage disease to imperatives of preventing disease. IOH dedicated 2011 to prevention, exploring evidence-based best practices and innovative models of care that are advancing disease prevention and early intervention.

Our October 2011 IOH Conference in Chicago spotlighted impressive steps forward in risk assessment, reducing early childhood caries, integration with primary care, new dental roles and effective collaborations to advance prevention, as well as guiding principles for longevity from the world’s healthiest cultures.

Key prevention strategies discussed at the conference included:

  • Risk assessment and early disease detection – Prevention in oral health needs to include a framework centered on caries risk assessment. To reduce time/cost burden on dental team, some risk assessment forms engage patients to self-assess, and provide treatment choices to fit a patient's readiness for change. Additionally, salivary diagnostics may soon enable quick, scientifically accurate chairside tests to detect the presence of an array of diseases within minutes.
  • Preventive dental visits by age one – Children who receive their first preventive dental services by age one have lower caries rates over time and require fewer hospital visits for restorative care. The result is a dramatic reduction in overall costs. Reaching parents early also helps them understand oral health milestones and increases continued usage of dental services to prevent early childhood caries.
  • Socially-relevant behavior modification – A new interactive, visually appealing mobile application is being used by community health workers to engage parents in childhood caries risk assessment and oral health education. Using simple, culturally relevant language, the system helps guide low-income, low-literacy minority families toward adopting healthier behaviors that help reduce and prevent caries.
  • New dental roles to increase access to preventive services – Dental Therapist training programs introduce a new dental team member. Skilled in basic dental exams, oral health counseling, and practice management, the Dental Therapist adds capacity for preventive services, increases office efficiencies, and counsels families to help them understand ways to maintain good oral health and reduce tooth decay. Additionally, an ADA training program for Community Dental Health Coordinators will help low-income communities by facilitating dental care, providing preventive services, and counseling families with culturally sensitive support.
  • Engaging primary care providers in oral health As family physicians and pediatricians have more frequent access to young children, primary care providers are increasingly taking advantage of oral health training programs. Providing basic oral screenings, fluoride varnish, and oral health education, they help families understand the connections between oral health and overall health, and the importance of starting dental prevention early to reduce caries risk over time.