Putting a Healthy Smile on Young EHS Faces

In the past, many young children had difficulty beginning routine dental care at age 1, near the time when a child’s first tooth appears. When many parents of young children contacted private dental practices, they were told to wait until their child is 3 years old before scheduling a routine exam. Thanks to a partnership with the dental clinic at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, young children enrolled in the Family Foundations Early Head Start (EHS) program can now receive dental examinations and treatment during these early developmental years.

For three mornings every month, Brian Martin, DMD and Heather Baumhardt, DDS offer dental services at the Lawrenceville clinic to children enrolled in Early Head Start. EHS provides transportation for all families who would otherwise have difficulty getting to the clinic, and enrolled children are accompanied by their parent and a home visitor for the appointment. Preregistration is required and is handled by each site’s coordinator and staff.

Mothers play an active role in the dental visit by providing the dentist with their child’s medical history and raising any questions and concerns they have about their child’s teeth. They can also sit in the dentist’s chair with their child during the visit, providing a sense of security and comfort as the dentist begins to examine and clean the child’s teeth. During the visit, parents learn effective techniques for brushing their young child’s teeth in order to avoid significant decay that could require dental follow-up. Dentists also give parents an idea of what to expect as additional teeth erupt or if additional restorative care is required.

According to Dr. Martin, a healthy diet is particularly important for young children’s dental hygiene. Young teeth are vulnerable to decay when they are frequently exposed to sugary drinks such as fruit juice, flavored milk, and soda. Dr. Martin advises parents to only offer children fruit juice during meal times in order to limit their intake.

Dr. Martin and Dr. Baumhardt also offer restorative work for children who already experience early childhood cavities. Unfortunately, some children who were not seen when their first teeth erupted are now being seen for extensive dental repair work. Parents and Home Visitors are instructed on the care that will be delivered for each of these children in order to restore their teeth and mouth to a healthier state.

In addition to focusing on early childhood dental health, Early Head Start emphasizes the importance of dental care for pregnant mothers, encouraging dental visits for cleanings and exams every six months. Improving the oral health of expectant and new mothers promotes healthy dental care and can reduce the transmission of bacteria from mother to infant.

Early Head Start continues to keep the medical and dental wellness of families a main priority by working with numerous Pittsburgh-area organizations such as the Children’s Hospital to meet the needs of enrolled families.