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Early Childhood Dental Program Takes Aim At Tooth Decay
Primary care providers play role in children too young to visit dentist

January 13, 2009 

         
Even babies and toddlers can get cavities. That’s the message Christopher Stenberg, M.D., wants parents to know. 
 
Dr. Stenberg, Director of the pediatric clinic at the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center, is one of the lead physicians in From the First Tooth, a groundbreaking program to prevent tooth decay - the most common health problem among Maine children. During every well child checkup, Dr. Stenberg applies a protective coat of fluoride varnish to make teeth stronger and more resistant to decay. Swabbing that small amount of fluoride on a child’s tiny tooth surfaces takes less than a minute, but provides a strong defense against decay that is caused by exposure to bacteria combined with frequent exposure to breast milk, formula, and solid food, according to Susan Cote, a public health dental hygienist who is training physicians, nurses, and medical assistants to do the simple procedure. 
 
The application of the fluoride coating is preceded by a brief oral health screening and followed by oral health education recommendations for the child’s caregiver.
 
Typically, children before age three do not visit a dentist. However, they are routinely seen by their primary care provider for well child checkups, making it an ideal time to practice the preventive techniques.
 
Funded by the Sadie and Harry Davis Foundation, the goal of From the First Tooth is to reduce dental disease in Maine’s youngest children, from the appearance of  their first tooth until they turn three years of age and have all of their baby teeth. 
 
The program is currently available in five locations - Waterville, Augusta, Pittsfield, and Washington County as well as Portland -  as part of a two-year pilot phase that ends in December. Organizations involved in the pilot phase are Waterville Pediatrics, Maine-Dartmouth Family Medicine Residency Program, Washington County Children’s Program, Sebasticook Valley Hospital, and the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center.  Supporters expect it to expand across the state over a period of four years, with growing support from the Foundation.
 
MaineCare, which provides services to approximately 25,000 children between the ages of 6 months and three years across the state, has recently begun reimbursing medical providers, in addition to nurses and dental hygienists, for the service.
 
On March 1, the Sadie and Harry Davis Foundation awarded a $300,000 one-year grant to MaineHealth, the state’s largest integrated health system that includes Maine Medical Center, to complete the pilot phase and begin expansion of the program throughout the state. To further develop and evaluate the program, MaineHealth has formed a strategic partnership with the Center for Research to Evaluate and Eliminate Dental Disparities at the Boston University Goldman School of Dental Medicine, a national leader in the prevention of early childhood caries.  Statewide expansion will be accomplished through the One Maine Health Collaborative, a partnership of Maine’s three largest Maine healthcare systems: Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, MaineGeneral Health, and MaineHealth.
 
MaineHealth will work with child health experts, health care providers, payers, and public health organizations to assure that all Maine children between the ages of 6 months and 3 years have access to this unique service whose cost effectiveness has been proven in national research studies. 
 
For more information, contact Diane Skog, Program Director at skogd@mainehealth.org.
 
MaineHealth is a family of leading, high-quality health care providers dedicated to ensuring their communities are among the healthiest in America. As an integrated healthcare delivery system offering a comprehensive range of healthcare services for Southern, Central and Western Maine, MaineHealth is a group of organizations comprised of people you know and trust, working together to make high quality healthcare accessible to all. We’re hospitals, physicians, nurses, outpatient care centers, home health agencies, outpatient surgery centers, diagnostic centers and much more, with a common goal to support healthy individuals and healthy communities. And, as a not-for-profit organization, we’re part of the fabric of our community, using our collective strengths to improve the health of area residents.
 
Recognized as one of the top 100 integrated healthcare delivery systems in the country, member organizations of MaineHealth include Maine Medical Center, Miles Memorial Hospital, St. Andrews Hospital, Stephens Memorial Hospital, Spring Harbor Hospital, Waldo County General Hospital, HomeHealth Visiting Nurses, NorDx, Synernet, and Maine Physician Hospital Organization.  Affiliates of MaineHealth include MaineGeneral Medical Center, Mid Coast Hospital, Southern Maine Medical Center, St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center, and Penobscot Bay Medical Center.
 
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