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Study Finds Early Preventive Dental Visits Increase Subsequent Treatment

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Ensuring that children receive their first dental visit following the eruption of their first tooth or by age 1 is a practice recommended by most dental organizations. However, a recent study by the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health found that when compared to children who did not receive early preventive visits, children who received preventive oral care before age 2 may need more frequent subsequent treatment for caries.

Published in JAMA Pediatrics, the study, “Outcomes Associated With Early Preventive Dental Care Among Medicaid-Enrolled Children in Alabama,” analyzed data from nearly 20,000 children enrolled in Medicaid program from 2008 to 2012 to track dental visits from birth. Compared with similar children who did not receive early preventive care, those receiving dentist-delivered care had more frequent subsequent caries-related treatment (20.6% versus 11.3%), a higher rate of visits, and greater annual dental expenditures.

The study also evaluated the impact of whether early preventive care was delivered by oral health professionals or primary care providers. The investigators found “no evidence of a benefit of early preventive dental care, regardless of the provider.” What was not addressed was the possibility that children who had established a dental home at an early age were subject to dental examinations that revealed caries, leading to subsequent treatment. Acknowledging the limitations of the study, the authors concluded, “Additional research beyond administrative data may be necessary to elucidate any benefit of early preventive dental care.”

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