Tooth decay, or dental disease, is the most common chronic disease among young children in the United States. And yet, it’s almost 100% preventable.
Healthy teeth are important because they help kids chew foods and form words. Dental disease is not only painful, it can result in difficulty eating, speaking and learning. Children with pain from cavities have a hard time paying attention in class and miss more days of school.
Children in low-income families are especially at risk, and their dental disease is much more likely to be left untreated.
As part of CHOMPERS! Bringing Dental Care to Kids, our comprehensive strategy to improve the oral health of young children in poverty, the Foundation brought a proven oral health curriculum, Cavity Free Kids, to western and central New York.
Cavity Free Kids, developed by the Washington Dental Services Foundation (WDSF), is oral health education with lessons, activities, stories, songs and other resources to helps kids practice good oral health habits.
This fun, play-based learning is designed to be used in almost any type of child care setting, including Head Start classrooms, Universal Pre-K programs and daycares as well as for families to use at home. Young children and their families learn about tooth-healthy foods, brushing and flossing and visiting the dentist.
Using a hub-and-spoke approach to training the trainers, the Foundation asked WDSF to train six local partners on Cavity Free Kids, who then trained preschool teachers throughout their counties. The program continues to grow, and now includes partners like Childcare Resource and Referral agencies in western and central New York that train early child care providers outside of Head Start.
Since the Foundation launched Cavity Free Kids in our regions in 2010, our partners have collectively trained teachers and staff in more than 100 early child care centers and organizations, reaching more than 20,000 young children.
According to an independent evaluation for the first two years of the program, teachers found that the Cavity Free Kids curriculum was easy to use, and 82% said they incorporate it in their classrooms at least once a week.
Since 2010, parents’ oral health knowledge increased, especially about how snacking throughout the day can lead to cavities, and when children should first visit the dentist. Children were significantly more likely to be eating fruits and vegetables, using fluoride toothpaste and drinking water with fluoride. The majority of children reached through Cavity Free Kids now receive regular dental care.