Dentists, Doctors Improve Children's Oral Health Through Innovative Partnership

Kids’ overall health will benefit from program aimed at prevention, cost-effectiveness.

Kids’ overall health will benefit from program aimed at prevention, cost-effectiveness.

Seattle, Wash. — The health and development of a child’s mouth and teeth are as important as any other part of the body. With this in mind, Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center’s Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic, Public Health, Seattle-King County and Washington Dental Service are partnering in an innovative pilot project. The project will train primary care providers such as pediatricians, nurse practitioners, family practice doctors and other children’s health care providers to screen infants and children for early signs of poor oral health with the hope of preventing decay.

Poor oral health in children has been linked to poor performance in school, poor social relationships and less success in later life.

“Children are more apt to be taken to doctors for well-child check-ups than to a dentist. That’s why it’s important for pediatricians and family practice physicians who work with young children to provide preventative services — like screening, risk assessment and fluoride varnish treatments,” said Jim Dwyer, Washington Dental Service president and CEO.

Dr. Benjamin Danielson, agreed, “Training pediatricians, family practice physicians and other health care providers on preventative measures will make a real difference in our community where we see many at-risk children. Washington Dental Service should be applauded for making this commitment to prevention.”

With Washington Dental Service’s most recent $25,000 grant, the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic will train physicians and other primary care providers on oral health disease and important prevention measures. As a result, these medical providers can play an integral role in improving the oral health of their young patients. The Washington Dental Service Foundation is also funding a project at Children’s designed to engage physicians statewide in providing oral health prevention services.

Richard A. Molteni, MD, vice president and medical director of Children’s, also welcomed the WDS Foundation’s grants to address children’s oral health problems, noting that from year to year there has been a roughly 10 percent increase in the volume of dental emergencies in Children’s emergency room. He said that is not surprising given the unacceptable level of children’s oral health problems revealed by recent Washington state surveys, including these facts:

  • One-year-olds are five times as likely and two-year-olds are more than twice as likely as children in these same age groups nationwide to have dental decay.
  • Over half of the state’s second graders have experienced dental decay.
  • Just half of the state’s population drinks fluoridated water.
  • One in seven low-income children are reported by their parents to have unmet dental needs. This is 50% higher than the national rate.

Molteni said a partnership between dentists and doctors statewide could significantly benefit children’s oral health and, ultimately, the entire health care system. He noted that the Washington State Medical Association recently passed a resolution supporting prevention and referral services by physicians.

“Better oral health equals better overall health for our kids, an accomplishment that could lead to significant cost savings within the health care system,” he said.

Molteni urged state policymakers to look closely at promising programs underway across the state and to weigh their success at increasing children’s access to preventative care and oral health treatment.

“Recruiting and training pediatricians and family practice physicians to carry out preventative care for children is just one part of a larger effort the state should undertake to improve kids’ oral health,” said Molteni.

Washington Dental Service’s Dwyer agreed: “Putting fluoride in water would make a huge difference, and so would increasing access to dental care for Medicaid-eligible children. We know there are ways to improve access based on what we’re learning from programs currently underway in different parts of the state. Ultimately, prevention saves a lot of money, which is especially important in these tight budget times. Prevention programs for children between the ages of one and five years cost half as much as filling cavities or paying for other treatment costs later.”

About Seattle Children’s

Consistently ranked as one of the best children’s hospitals in the country by U.S. News & World Report, Seattle Children’s serves as the pediatric and adolescent academic medical referral center for the largest landmass of any children’s hospital in the country (Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho). For more than 100 years, Seattle Children’s has been delivering superior patient care while advancing new treatments through pediatric research. Seattle Children’s serves as the primary teaching, clinical and research site for the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine. The hospital works in partnership with Seattle Children’s Research Institute and Seattle Children’s Hospital Foundation. For more information, visit or follow us on Twitter or Facebook.