The shelter-in-place restrictions issued in most states to contain the spread of Covid-19 have disrupted well-child medical visits and, for those lucky enough to have had access in the past, routine dental appointments, too. These visits are important for disease prevention, including dental disease, and they are opportunities for parents to learn about the risks of tooth decay and how to prevent it. Many children also receive applications of fluoride varnish on their teeth.
Yet good things can emerge from a crisis. As the pandemic endures, the oral health community should explore fresh approaches to promoting prevention in general and fluoride in particular. In a recent article for Health Affairs blog, health workforce experts at George Washington University (GWU) see promising new strategies gaining traction during this pandemic.
One strategy is to explore new approaches to expanding the number of people who can perform meaningful roles in providing care for or educating patients. Across the country, home visitors, community health workers and promotores have played key roles to educate families and reinforce healthy habits while maintaining social-distancing. Some oral health leaders are considering the ability of lay health workers, or even parents, to apply fluoride varnish to children’s teeth.
Another promising strategy is telehealth technology. Telehealth can prevent a crisis like Covid-19 from completely blocking oral health care and education. Besides facilitating a remote patient-dental provider consultation, telehealth models can raise awareness and help people monitor conditions affecting their risk of tooth decay. Web-based apps and other telehealth tools can be harnessed to discuss daily routines and promote healthy habits, such as encouraging parents to choose tap water — which is typically fluoridated to prevent tooth decay — over sugary drinks.
For many years there have been programs that use texting to educate women during pregnancy. This mode of communication could be leveraged by oral health advocates to offer positive oral health-related messages to families. This could help ensure that more parents are brushing the teeth of their young children twice daily using the recommended amount of fluoride toothpaste.
As Covid-19 continues to test our resilience, this crisis reminds us of the need to regularly explore new vehicles and new stakeholders whom we might enlist to help educate families about oral health prevention.
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