For many years the war against caries has been lead by dentists, dental hygienists, dental assistants and other oral health professionals. As a transmittable disease that affects over three-fourths of the AI/AN population, a multidisciplinary Public Health approach is needed. Other complex diseases, like diabetes and heart disease, use all of the health professions to attack the disease. A true public health effort involving not only health care providers but also physicians, public health nurses, CHR's, WIC staff, Head Start, Early Head Start, schools, and families is needed to address this disease.
The IHS Head Start Program has developed several goals to address oral health in Head Starts and Early Head Starts. This approach includes working with IHS, Tribal and other oral health and public health professionals to develop effective programs to prevent dental decay. We are encouraging a public health approach to this transmittable disease which includes reducing the dental caries causing bacteria in expectant mothers and children, increasing fluoride consumption through the use of fluoride varnishes and fluoride in drinking water, encouraging better food choices and providing information to parents and Head Start programs on what they can do to prevent dental decay for themselves and their children.
To help Head Start Programs and Oral Health Providers implement an effective prevention program the IHS Head Start Program has developed two exciting and useful documents: The Oral Health for Head Start Children: Best Practices (Acrobat, 330kilobytes) and the IHS Head Start Oral Health ToolKit.
"Oral Health for Head Start Children: Best Practices" provides evidence-based approaches and interventions to improve the oral health of Head Start children and their families. The Best Practices are divided into three key points of intervention; pregnancy, birth through two years, and two years through five years of age. The prevention of Early Childhood Caries requires an approach that involves pregnant women and infants. Interventions during the preschool years are primarily targeted to the prevention of dental caries in the permanent teeth. We expect this document to be helpful to Head Start administration and staff and all of the medical, dental, and community health staff who will need to work together to effectively improve the future oral health of American Indian and Alaska Native children. We hope to spread our vision of a future where American Indian and Alaska Native children no longer suffer from Early Childhood Caries at the alarming rates that they do currently.
This IHS Head Start Oral Health Toolkit is intended as a companion document to "Oral Health for Head Start Children: Best Practices." While the Best Practices document focuses on prevention and early intervention, the Toolkit contains practical ideas and resources to assist Head Start programs 1) meet their performance standards in the area of oral health, and 2) plan and implement interventions to promote oral health for Head Start children and their families.