According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 44 percent of children age 5 have had cavities, making tooth decay the most common chronic childhood disease.
So, how do you help prevent tooth decay in kids? When it comes to dental health, it’s important to teach children good health habits early. And that’s where Bates’ Dental Assisting program comes in.
During the last school year, more than 14 students participated in specialized training dedicated to arming the future dental assistants with tips, strategies and methods focused on teaching young children and their parents how to create good teeth-cleaning habits.
Dr. Abbie Hage, the dentist who runs the college’s Dental Clinic, says, “The training’s focus is to train providers and staff on the essentials of a well-baby dental program that can be implemented in any office or clinic, primarily aimed at the heavily at-risk, under-served, Medicaid population.”
The training, called Access to Baby and Child Dentistry (ABCD), has been around for 20 years. It began when Spokane-area public and private sector partners came together with a common goal of improving access to dental care for the states’s most vulnerable preschool children. ABCD has largely been credited with leading the country in the percentage of babies and preschoolers from low-income families who receive dental care. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, 54 percent of Medicaid-eligible young children receive oral care in Washington, the highest across the country, states an article in the Puget Sound Business Journal.
Michelle Santos, a student in the program, says, “It was great to be exposed to the different problems children may have and instruction on how to give the correct care for each of those situations. No matter how minor or severe the case may be for each child, early oral health is very important, and educating each patient and parent is the key,” she says.
The ABCD training, held at the Hilltop Family Medical/Dental Clinic, is most importantly early education to the child and caregiver, explains instructor Patty Reno. “They recommend that a dentist examines the child as early as six months, and continuing care and education to the parent/caregiver to prevent decay,” she says. “Following the class, we were able to tour the new 14-chair dental clinic. It was a great learning experience for us!”
The training also encompasses pregnant patients and teen moms, notes Dr. Hage. “The goal is to stop the ravages of dental neglect so rampant in that demographic, and provide the poor with access to knowledge, not just care.”
The program instructors and Dr. Hage have already received this training. “Now the students who
attend this type of training will graduate with that certification; this is something I do not believe any other school offers its students,” she says.
“It’s a big deal because not only does it help patients, it (in my opinion) makes the students more desirable as potential employees. From the business aspect alone, such assistants can generate more revenue for their employers because ABCD-certified offices are reimbursed at a higher rate for the same services,” states Dr. Hage.
Because of ABCD’s success, the program is currently being used across the country. In two decades, the number of young Medicaid children in Washington receiving dental care has more than tripled, according to ABCD’s website.