Improving the Oral Health of Chicago Families and Children


The best way to improve a child’s health is to improve the health of the whole family.

That’s the basis of a new UIC outreach program to reduce cavities in Chicago’s low-income and minority infants and toddlers.

“If the parents or caregivers aren’t practicing good oral hygiene themselves, the chance that the children will take good care of their own teeth is much lower,” said Molly Martin, associate professor of pediatrics in the College of Medicine.

Funded by a five-year, $5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, the multidisciplinary program will train community health workers to talk with families about oral hygiene at health clinics, WIC centers and in their homes.

The researchers will look at which setting, or combination of settings, is more effective for reaching people.

“We might find that families are more likely to take action if they are reached in the clinic and at home than they are if they are just reached at a clinic,” said Martin, a fellow of the UIC Institute for Health Research and Policy and principal investigator on the NIH grant.

The study, called Coordinated Oral Health Promotion Chicago (CO-OP Chicago), includes UIC researchers in clinical pediatrics, dentistry and health policy.

They will recruit and train six community health workers to talk with 1,500 families in Chicago who have children between the ages of 6 months and 3 years. The families will be studied for two years to evaluate their overall oral health and the incidence of cavities in the children.

Almost half of children 11 years and under have cavities, one of the most common chronic health conditions of childhood, particularly among low-income and minority children.

In Chicago, 63 percent of third graders have cavities, and more than half go untreated.

Pediatric dentists in the College of Dentistry will develop the training curriculum for the community health workers.

“Improving oral health and access to care for families and children is something we are very excited to be a part of through this grant,” said Marcio da Fonseca, head of UIC pediatric dentistry.

The grant to UIC is one of 10 announced by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research as part of the new national Multidisciplinary and Collaborative Research Consortium to Reduce Oral Health Disparities in Children.

“Research has shown that individual-level approaches alone are not sufficient to reduce rates of tooth decay and other oral diseases,” said NIDCR program director Ruth Nowjack-Raymer. The consortium’s research projects, she said, “will involve holistic, population-health, and other approaches to take decisive action against oral health disparities at multiple levels of influence, such as families, neighborhoods, and healthcare systems.”

Learn more about the national consortium.

The UIC grant is administered by the Institute for Health Research and Policy, an all-campus home and incubator for multidisciplinary health research.

Co-investigators on the grant are William Frese, Usha Raj and Benjamin Van Voorhees, College of Medicine; Marcio da Fonseca, David Avenetti and Sheela Raja, College of Dentistry; Michael Berbaum and Oksana Pugach, Institute for Health Research and Policy; and Jennie Pinkwater, Illinois Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

IHRP adapted this news release from the original, written by Sharon Parmet, associate director of the UIC News Bureau, for UIC News.