The UNC School of Dentistry is on a mission to treat children’s teeth as early as possible — even before they are born.
A new rotation for fourth-year dental students that focuses on caring for pregnant patients was added last fall to give students hands-on experience.
The rotation is a part of the Prenatal Oral Health Program, founded by Dr. Kim Boggess, a professor in the obstetrics and gynecology department, and Dr. Rocio Quinonez, a professor of pediatric dentistry.
“I think it’s critical that we change the culture and practice we are in,” Boggess said.
“Many dental community providers are afraid to care for pregnant women.”
She said this fear is because of rumors that dental care can harm fetuses.
“There is absolutely no evidence that dental care impedes the development of the fetus,” she said.
Boggess and Quinonez said the program aims to eliminate this stigma. They also said they think the program is the first of its kind in the nation.
The two leaders said the program has been the result of the natural progression of their work.
“I spent the last 20 years studying infections in mothers and infants,” Boggess said.
“Oral infections are very common.”
Boggess said her research — combined with the fact that many mothers are unaware of the high risk of oral infection that their children face — makes preventative care and education all the more important.
Quinonez said almost 40 percent of children begin kindergarten with a history of dental disease.
“We want to change that, and getting to children and their caregivers early is an important part of that,” she said.
Third-year dental students Amanda Kerns and Jeffrey Jackson have also played a major part in the development of this program.
The two received the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship for this academic year, which they are using to educate fellow dental students about the treatment of pregnant patients.
Students and faculty are not the only ones excited by the new rotation — some patients have expressed enthusiasm as well.
“I was really surprised how excited they were to get an opportunity to go to the dentist and get this education,” Kerns said.
“It’s really interesting to see how they put their children’s needs first.”
Another goal of the program is to educate mothers about healthy dental practices that they can later pass on to their children.
“If a woman is thinking of getting pregnant or is pregnant, she should visit a dentist,” Quinonez said.
Contact the desk editor at firstname.lastname@example.org
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.