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Championing Little Smiles: Investigating the Complex Factors Behind Caries in Young Children

rows of children smiling

Early Childhood Caries (ECC) is a prevalent pediatric disease that affects children worldwide. This disease starts early in a child's life and progresses rapidly, especially among high-risk populations, leading to severe health issues if untreated. The consequences of untreated ECC go beyond just dental pain; they can lead to infections, affect nutritional intake, and impair a child's ability to speak and learn, and therefore, impacting their overall long-term well-being.

With funding support from the P3RC, I am conducting my Applied Practice Experience at the Infant Oral Health Clinic at UIC College of Dentistry where we are working on a study to identify and address the multifactorial causes of ECC. The study’s goal is to identify and evaluate ECC contributing factors by analyzing data from pediatric patients using a retrospective and cross-sectional study design drawing upon demographic information, parental and environmental factors, dietary habits, and feeding practices. The funding from P3RC has helped me to access the complete version of SPSS, which I used to clean and analyze the data. Additionally, the funding was used in drafting and designing surveys, as well as designing and printing promotional materials. This funding will further be used to incentivize people to participate in the survey, providing invaluable insights about the promotional materials we designed.

Initial findings revealed the complex nature of ECC and underscore the importance of early detection and preventive strategies. We identified key factors associated with ECC, such as race, socioeconomic status, parental health literacy, duration of breast feeding and regular dental visits. These insights were crucial for developing tailored oral health promotional materials displayed in Spanish and English (see image below). We plan to evaluate the promotional materials through a pilot study for their relevance, clarity, and visual appeal.

This initiative aligns with the P3RC’s mission to support systems changes; by advocating for integrated oral health guidance and evaluations for children during pediatric, prenatal and postnatal visits and by developing early dental assessment guidelines, we support system and policy changes aimed at improving children's oral health outcomes. Additionally, we focus on creating culturally sensitive educational materials to promote environmental changes that adapt to the needs of diverse communities.

This project not only sheds light on the complex nature of ECC but also sets a course for substantial public health improvements through targeted policy-driven and practice-oriented solutions in pediatric oral health. By focusing on a combination of systemic changes and educational outreach, we aim to reduce disparities in oral health and enhance the quality of life for children across various communities. Through our ongoing commitment, we continue to foster innovations that reinforce the idea that good health includes good oral health through the following activities:

  • Policy Awareness: We raise awareness for policies that make oral health evaluations a standard part of pediatric, prenatal, and postnatal health checks.
  • Educational Outreach: We distribute tailored, easy-to-understand health education materials to parents and caregivers.
  • Community Engagement: We aim to collaborate with local stakeholders to disseminate health information and implement preventive measures effectively.
promotional materials in Spanish and English

Learn More

Read about the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) and their current policy recommendations to address ECC.

Anum Ijaz headshot

About the Author

Anum Ijaz is a dentist and a Fulbright scholar pursuing a Master of Public Health in Epidemiology and Global Health. She is dedicated to improving all aspects of pediatric health.