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Programs & Initiatives in Communities
Healthy Teeth. Healthy Baby.
Partnering to promote dental health in Minnesota's infants & toddlers

Early childhood caries is common, but it's nearly 100 percent preventable

Early childhood caries is the most common chronic disease among children in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) information on Dental Caries (Tooth Decay). The disease can begin as early as teeth appear (usually around six months) and progresses rapidly. This type of decay can cause severe pain to the child and can affect speech, eating, sleeping, learning and playing.

Common and costly: early childhood caries by the numbers

According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) report The State of Little Teeth (PDF), more than one-third of children have early childhood caries by the time they enter kindergarten.

AAPD also cites Early Childhood Caries (ECC) (PDF) as being:

  • Five times more common than asthma
  • Four times more common than early childhood obesity
  • 20 times more common than diabetes

Many children with this type of decay require operations to treat the disease that may range anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 per child per year. And even though the disease is common and expensive to treat, the good news is that it’s preventable.

"Healthy Teeth. Healthy Baby." starts with education

“Healthy Teeth. Healthy Baby.” is a community-centered initiative based on the notion that prevention of early dental disease starts prenatally and is most effective in the first three years of life. The initiative provides anticipatory guidance and education to pregnant women, expecting/new parents and caregivers of underserved children up to Healthy Teeth, Healthy Baby imagethe age of three. The campaign is geared toward communities of color and recent immigrants, and it is part of the larger statewide Early Dental Disease Prevention Initiative (EDDPI), which legislators called for in 2015.

"Healthy Teeth. Healthy Baby." focuses on five key messages:

  1. Understand the value of prenatal oral health
  2. Check and clean your baby's teeth to prevent cavities
  3. Protect your baby's teeth with fluoride
  4. Feed your baby healthy food
  5. Take your baby to a doctor or a dentist when the first tooth appears, or no later than his/her first birthday

How the program works

"Healthy Teeth. Healthy Baby.” educates pregnant women, along with parents and caregivers of infants and toddlers, on early dental disease prevention to avoid tooth decay. The campaign uses motivational interviewing techniques and appropriate educational materials including multilingual posters, easy-to-understand tooth models, videos and interactive tools to deliver its five key messages. Oral hygiene kits are also distributed as incentives and contain the following items: age-appropriate toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, washcloth, timer, fluoride varnish card, lift-the-lip mirror cling and educational insert.

Focusing on priority groups

This community-centered initiative is specifically geared toward communities of color and recent immigrants such as African American, American Indian, Hispanic, Karen, Hmong and Somali. By using easy-to-understand educational materials, the program will provide information to non-English speaking parents and caregivers in the most appropriate manner.

Collaborating with medical and dental providers to increase preventive behaviors

Medical-dental collaboration is a cornerstone of the "Healthy Teeth. Healthy Baby." campaign's aim to improve the oral health of very young children. Minnesota Child & Teen Checkups (C&TC) and the Minnesota Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages pediatricians and family practice doctors and their staff to get trained to provide risk assessments, counseling and fluoride varnish to prevent early childhood caries. This aligns with the AAP recommendations that health care providers perform health-risk assessments on all infants by the time they reach six months of age. This approach is essential, especially for low-income children who most often have barriers in accessing dental care. A health care provider's well-baby visit can help fill the gap when there is not access to a dental home. The ultimate goal is connection of each infant or young child to a dental home that can provide continuous access to appropriate preventive, routine and restorative dental care.

"Healthy Teeth. Healthy Baby." seeks buy-in from dentists and dental hygienists to provide ongoing care to children under the age of three. This campaign institutionalizes the core values of AAPD of visiting a dentist and establishing a dental home by age one.

What the program hopes to achieve

The goals of “Healthy Teeth. Healthy Baby.” are as follows:

  • Delay the onset of early dental disease through education and by encouraging caregivers to seek oral health care for their young child
  • Lower the peak degree of burden that dental disease has on health care infrastructure
  • Diminish overall cases and impact of the disease through oral health promotion and grassroots efforts

How you can get involved

We need the involvement of parents, caregivers and community partners, along with both dental and medical providers, in order for "Healthy Teeth. Healthy Baby." to be successful. Community organizations can contact us directly to organize an educational session for non-English speaking communities. As a part of the session, we’ll use easy-to-understand educational materials, hands-on models and oral hygiene health kits to educate new and expecting parents and caregivers.

Additional Resources

The following websites provide helpful information regarding dental health in infants and toddlers.

Minnesota Dental Association
American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry
American Academy of Pediatrics (Minnesota Chapter)
National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research
NICDR Videos
Minnesota Department of Health Women, Infants & Children (WIC) Program
Early Dental Prevention Initiative Legislation
Fluoride Varnish Application (FVA): Non-Dental Provider
Preventive Services for Children and Pregnant Women: Dental Providers
Fluoride Varnish in the Child and Teen Checkups (C&TC) Setting
C&TC Schedule of Age-Related Screening Standards
C&TC Dental Periodicity Schedule: Dental Providers

For more information about "Healthy Teeth. Healthy Baby." contact Prasida Khanal at 651-201-3538 or email