The UNMC College of Dentistry has partnered with the Office of Oral Health and Dentistry at the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the Nebraska Community Foundation to produce and distribute up to 25,000 early dental health starter kits to public health departments across Nebraska by summer of 2021.
The kits are packed with unique oral hygiene items for children from birth to 6 years old and are given at no cost to new parents and caregivers at hospitals, head starts, daycares, WIC centers and other locations.
"This educational program for parents and caregivers can reduce dental disease and is an essential part of statewide community dental disease prevention programming," said Jillian Wallen, assistant dean for extramural activities and outreach for the college.
There is a great need for oral health education and prevention in Nebraska. A 2016 statewide survey of children in Nebraska's Head Start program found that 46% had decay experience, which is higher than the national average. Early oral health habits can prevent dental decay and early childhood caries, an infectious disease that can lead to severe pain, language development delays and malnutrition.
Through helping to pack the early dental health kits, the college's dental and dental hygiene students are learning about large scale dental public health efforts occurring across Nebraska.
Cole Johnson, a fourth-year dental student, participated in a packing event in August, where about 40 volunteers packed 4,000 kits in two days.
"I was glad to be able to give a few hours of my time to help put together the starter kits and help educate parents on the importance of their children's oral health," Johnson said. "It's nice to do something to keep promoting oral health, especially now when outreach in the community is more challenging."
The kits also emphasize the need to establish a dental home by age 1. Dental homes create an ongoing relationship between the patient and the dentist and provide access to continual dental disease prevention and education.
"The early dental health kits are going to help thousands of families in Nebraska. In addition to the items in the kit, they will receive valuable oral health information from their health professional," said Tami Trewet-Sloop, teledentistry coordinator for the College of Dentistry. "Little did we know when this project started that the kits would be assembled and distributed during a pandemic, but the information and items are needed now more than ever."
Charles Craft, DDS, the Nebraska state dental director for the DHHS Office of Oral Health and Dentistry, said he greatly values the partnership with the College of Dentistry.
"This is a tremendous opportunity to not only positively impact the oral health outcomes of young children across Nebraska but also to introduce students to the critical need for public health educational and preventive dental services," Dr. Craft said.
The project is supported by the Nebraska Community Foundation.