PHILADELPHIA (Feb. 19, 2013) – Temple University's Kornberg School of Dentistry, with support from UnitedHealthcare and United Health Foundation, today launched Project ENGAGE, an initiative designed to improve children's oral health and address one of the greatest unmet health needs for young people in Pennsylvania and nationwide.
Project ENGAGE will work with Philadelphia children under 6 and their families who are enrolled in the state's Medicaid plan, including the UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Pennsylvania. The goal is to expand the initiative to other parts of the state and country.
The new program will improve children's oral health by creating an oral health registry that will use dental claims information and operating and emergency department histories to identify children most at risk of developing any health issues as a result of tooth decay. Community health workers will provide these children and their families, including siblings and pregnant women, with information, counseling and assistance in scheduling dental appointments. Public health dental hygienists will also be available to provide in-home care and additional treatments, such as fluoride varnishes and sealants.
"Temple University is excited to work with UnitedHealthcare and United Health Foundation to address the challenges and issues related to the oral health care of children in our state," said Amid Ismail, dean of the Kornberg School of Dentistry. "By creating this oral health registry and the associated intervention programs, we are creating an innovative model that will improve the health and well-being of thousands of children and their families."
Tooth decay is an infectious disease that ranks as the most common chronic condition during childhood; it is five times more prevalent in children than asthma, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. If left untreated, tooth decay can cause infections and illness, and affect the development of permanent teeth.
Currently, fewer than 30 percent of the children under 6 living in the five zip codes (19121, 19122, 19132, 19133 and 19140) surrounding the Kornberg School of Dentistry's North Philadelphia campus have access to proper oral health care, often due to lack of awareness of the importance of oral health, limited transportation and access to qualified dental care providers. One of the program's goals is to increase that access and reach at least 60 percent of the children.
Project ENGAGE is being funded with a $1 million grant from United Health Foundation and another $750,000 from UnitedHealthcare. Temple University will work together to create the registry and coordinate the interventions to families, with assistance from UnitedHealthcare.
"The neighborhoods served by Project ENGAGE have the highest cost-of-care for children's dental care in Pennsylvania, in part because the parents of these children tend to seek dental care only when it's an emergency and then seek that care at a hospital, which can be expensive." Ismail said. "We need to shift the dental care from when the children have a problem to before the problem starts."
The program will also provide training for primary care physicians to encourage preventive screenings and to apply dental varnish, while also giving general dentists who do not currently provide dental care for very young children the support and information needed to care for children. Studies show that children should begin seeing a dentist before their first birthday. In many cases, dental referrals for young children come through primary care physicians, helping to catch diseases early and perhaps avoid a lifetime of dental disease and other health issues.
"By combining Temple University's clinical expertise with UnitedHealthcare's extensive claims information, we will promote oral health, expand access to care and reduce the prevalence of dental disease," said Michael Weitzner, DMD, MS, vice president, UnitedHealthcare Dental. "We have the unique opportunity to enhance the health delivery system and improve health outcomes for thousands of children in Pennsylvania."
Project ENGAGE builds on the success of other oral health initiatives created by UnitedHealthcare for Medicaid plans. In New York, New Jersey and Mississippi, UnitedHealthcare organizes the Early Childhood Caries program, which encourages primary care physicians to perform oral health screenings on very young children. The program has helped enhance preventive care, with nearly 90 percent of children that were referred to a general dentist after a physician screening receiving preventive services such as a cleaning or fluoride treatment.
"United Health Foundation is grateful for the opportunity to support Project ENGAGE, which will serve as an important resource for improving the oral health of children and families," said Kate Rubin, president of United Health Foundation.