Improving children's oral health in Colorado - Part II

By: Amy Cotton

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) published a report earlier this year showing impressive improvements in children’s oral health over the last ten years. The Children’s Dental Health Project (CDHP) asked agency staff to share key data and highlight some strategies they used to help make progress. In a two-part Q&A, CDHP’s Amy Cotton posed questions to Natalie Thomas, the child and school oral health coordinator within CDPHE.

The below Q&A is the second post of a two-part article. To read part I, about other strategies and remaining challenges to boosting children's oral health, visit this page.

1. What are some programs in place to close children’s oral health disparities?

Colorado has several projects aiming to close gaps in access to care for rural communities and other families who struggle to achieve good oral health. Here are just a few examples of programs focused on connecting children with needed care. These programs make use of tele-health innovations, models to better coordinate care between medical and dental providers, and support access to preventive services:

  • SMILES (Spanning Miles in Linking Everyone to Services) Virtual Dental Home project delivers dental health services to families and children with limited access to care in underserved communities. It goes outside the traditional model of a dental office.
  • The Smart Mouths Smart Kids toolkit is a project helping communities develop and implement preventive oral health programs in their schools. It currently reaches over 200 schools in both rural and urban areas.
  • COMDI (Colorado Medical Dental Integration) is an effort that integrates dental care into primary care settings, making it easier for patients to access dental care. A dental hygienist receives equipment and an exam room and works closely with those medical providers to make oral health care available on-site.  

2.  CDHP is exploring how policies and programs supporting a whole family can benefit children’s oral health and success in the long term. Are there family-centered efforts that state oral health programs are undertaking to help both children and their parents, together, attain good oral health toward this end?

If a mother has tooth decay, her children are three times more likely to experience decay. ...Oral health is an intergenerational issue, and we must address it using a family-centered approach.

Colorado state agencies have been working to support a two-generation approach (2Gen) to address the intergenerational impacts of poverty on life achievement. These influences include health, education, housing and employment. We know that if a mother has tooth decay, her children are three times more likely to experience decay. That is one example of how oral health is an intergenerational issue, and why we must address it using a family-centered approach.

One way we are already doing this work is by striving to improve dental care for pregnant women. Colorado received a grant to focus on oral health during pregnancy from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration and the federal Maternal and Child Health Bureau. Ending the cycle of bacterial transmission from caregiver to child is also part of that work. With the Perinatal Infant Oral Health Quality Improvement (PIOHQI) Initiative, we are working on demonstration pilots in clinical settings to increase the number of pregnant women receiving preventive oral health care. Colorado has three projects up and running, and another in the planning stage.

The Oral Health Unit plans to collaborate with 2Gen partners to prevent disease and help all of Colorado’s children achieve their maximum potential.

As we engage in this approach, we want to ensure families don’t lose access to the care they currently have. Today, Colorado’s Medicaid program includes
an adult dental benefit. It is critical to protect this coverage so we can continue to support the oral health of low-wage caregivers, parents, children and families.

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Did you know?

44% }
of U.S. children will have at least one cavity by kindergarten.
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