Finding “Dental Homes” for Young Children in Jamesburg
What is a dental home? Simply stated, a dental home is a system of care that provides accessible, continuous and comprehensive dental services. These services are family-centered and culturally sensitive. Schools, parents, dentists and hygienists all play important roles in establishing dental homes for at risk children and their families. Early childhood is the most critical time to find dental homes for young children.
Why do young children need dental homes? Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease among children in the United States. Problems can arise even before teeth emerge, especially from “bottle mouth” that develops when children fall asleep, when napping or at night, while drinking milk and other liquids containing sugar. As a result, more than 40% of children have cavities by the time they enroll in kindergarten. Tooth decay can lead to pain, speaking disorders, difficulty chewing, trouble concentrating in school, and health issues later in life. These afflictions are particularly severe among low income and minority children.
What are the challenges to finding dental homes? Parents in underserved communities may not be able to afford dental care and may lack transportation to a dentist’s office. They may be unfamiliar with dental procedures and worry about communicating with the dentist. They may come from cultures that don’t recognize the need for oral care and believe that tooth decay and loss are inevitable. In addition to these obstacles, parents may lack knowledge about good nutrition and its effect on children’s teeth.
What do we hope to accomplish in Jamesburg? We have great expectations for this project! First, we will enlist a cadre of local dentists and hygienists to lead our work. Our dentists will, of course, provide direct care and develop the rapport with parents that fosters long-term relationships. Hygienists will play a key role in establishing relationships with parents, helping them develop good nutritional habits, serving as role models, and working on practical problems such as scheduling appointments and helping arrange transportation. We will ask local pediatricians to help us, as well.
The Jamesburg Elementary School has embraced this project. As soon as school reopens, we will begin working with teachers to incorporate “dental learning” into the pre-k curriculum. The school has already started a project to insure that water is readily available for all students.
Most important, our parents have told us that they are interested in learning more about dental health. In this program, they will learn how to care for “tiny teeth” by cleaning gums, checking for cavities, and providing nutritious, non-sugary meals and snacks. As their children grow, they can show them how to properly brush and floss. Parents will be able to identify potential dental problems, and they will be comfortable approaching a dentist or hygienist for help. The parents and their children will have dental homes.
About the Grantee
The United Way of Central Jersey provides leadership to create opportunities for a better life for people living or working in our community who are needy, at risk and vulnerable. We achieve this by mobilizing people,organizations and financial resources to create and sustain programs that achieve targeted outcomes and lasting change through volunteerism, partnerships,services and advocacy.