The New York University College of Dentistry (NYUCD) and Graham Windham, a local NYC-based foster care agency, have partnered to provide regular dental care to more than 650 children since spring of 2011. The success of the program, Partners Against Caries (PAC), both for the participating foster children and the dental school students, may serve as a model for other dental schools' outreach programs. PAC's successes were outlined in an oral as well as a poster session at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference and Exhibition in New Orleans, October 20-23, 2012.
"The program has been an overwhelmingly positive experience for both the children and families in foster care, as well as for the NYUCD dental students," said study author Elizabeth A. Best, MPH, Department of Pediatric Dentistry. "The pediatric patients enjoy receiving care from the dental students, who are very engaged with the children."
For the dental students, the experience has been eye-opening.
"Most of the dental students have little knowledge of the foster care system," commented Best. "At NYUCD, we are now graduating dental students who have worked with this population, and are aware of their unique health care needs," she said.
Poor dental and oral health can affect children's growth, school performance and attendance, and can contribute to physical and mental health problems. According to Healthy Foster Care America, approximately 35 percent of children and teens enter foster care with significant dental and oral health problems.
"Dental health has been described as a "window" to a child's well-being," said Mitchell Rubin, MD, FAAP, Medical Director, Graham Windham. "We believe that an optimal dental state is a necessary ingredient for the interrelated spectrum of medical, mental and social health," Dr. Rubin said.
Low-income children, especially those in foster care, are less likely to receive regular dental care, and, as a result, face a greater risk of tooth decay. These children, as they grow older, are susceptible to a myriad of oral health related problems– from heart disease, diabetes, and oral cancer, to low self-esteem and depression.
"Our exciting partnership with the NYU College of Dentistry not only addresses a heretofore gap in this service, but also serves as an invaluable tool for the dental students – introducing them to a most vulnerable pediatric population. We are so happy that the children are getting such wonderful care," Dr. Rubin said.
The abstract presented at the AAP conference, "An Approach to Dental Healthcare in an Inner-City Foster Care Population: The Partners Against Caries (PAC) Program," describes the partnership, which shifted dental services for these children from multiple providers to a single "dental home" in spring, 2011. The goal was to improve care quality and continuity for the participating foster children, and to provide a unique learning experience for dental students.
Through PAC, the children, ages 18 months to 21 years, receive dental exams, cleanings, fluoride treatment and family education at two foster care facilities, as well as transportation and referrals to NYUCD's dental clinics for more complex care.
"We definitely think that other schools could benefit from a similar experience and curriculum," Best said.