In California, more than 40% of children have already experienced dental decay by the time they enter kindergarten; by third grade, this number has risen to 70%. Dental decay can lead to serious consequences if left untreated; 5.5% of low-income children attending school need immediate care due to severe dental decay and abscesses. Other consequences include pain, chewing difficulty, malnutrition, and low self-esteem. Early dental decay in the primary (baby) teeth can also lead to decay in the permanent teeth. This is almost entirely preventable if families begin to receive counseling during pregnancy and if they themselves have good oral health, a regular source of care, and value and practice health-promoting behaviors.
With this in mind, The Center for Oral Health (COH) created this guidebook to assist dental providers, WIC personnel, and public health advocates in developing Early Entry into Dental Care programs in their own communities. This guidebook provides background information on WIC and the benefits of early preventive oral health care, tools and guidance for planning dental care and education services, and advice on building successful relationships between WIC staff and dental service providers. It is based on the recognition that a collaborative effort between dental providers and a trusted community-involved organization like WIC is the most effective method of providing low-income children with accessible and affordable preventive dental services.
COH is one of the few organizations in the nation dedicated to the vision of “oral health for all.” COH provides leadership in advocacy, education, and public policy development; promotes community-based prevention strategies; encourages the integration of oral health into total health; and works to improve access to and the quality of oral health services. In a collaborative effort with the California Primary Care Association, it launched the Oral Health Access Council to work toward improving the oral health status of the state’s traditionally underserved and vulnerable populations.
A special thanks to the two pioneer programs that offered dental services in WIC sites – Alameda County Department of Public Health, Office of Dental Health, and the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Branch. Due to their perseverance, creativity, and commitment, thousands of children have received preventive care and are now integrated into the dental care system.
Thanks are also due to the leaders and staff in the other eleven counties where this program was piloted, as well as to our funders, both private and governmental.