The American Dental Association recommends children have their first dental visit by their first birthday. Since many parents don't think to take their partially toothless infant to the dentist, a move has developed in recent years to teach pediatricians and other non-dental health-care providers about preventive dental care, Hayes said.
State Medicaid programs, for example, have started paying physicians to apply topical fluoride treatments during well-child visits, according to a second study in the same journal by researchers at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
While about 70 percent of doctors taking part in a Medicaid demonstration project reported they provided preventive dental care on a routine basis, challenges in getting doctors on board included difficulty in applying the varnish, difficulty integrating dental care into the practice and resistance among staff, the researchers noted.
Hayes said having primary-care doctors more involved in preventive dental care is a good idea. For too long, oral health and the health of the rest of the body have been treated as separate concerns, when the condition of the teeth and the gums actually is an indication of overall health.
"I do believe we need to be getting pediatricians more aware of oral health issues," Hayes said. "These projects are trying to figure out how to connect the disciplines of dentistry and medicine, and that makes sense for us all as patients."
One hurdle, however, is that oral health care training in medical school is minimal, according to a third study in the same journal by researchers from Children's Mercy Hospital and Clinics in Kansas City, Mo. Their study found that even Web-based training for pediatric residents could help them learn the skills to do a basic
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