Pediatric Dentists and Childhood Obesity

When it comes to tackling the growing epidemic of childhood obesity, dentists are in a unique position to start a conversation with parents.

downloadThey already talk about the dangers of sugar-sweetened beverages, the importance of not letting babies go to bed with bottles— so why not take it a step further and talk about obesity?

This was just one of the solutions proposed at Healthy Futures: Engaging the Oral Health Community in Childhood Obesity Prevention. The Nov. 3-4 conference brought together 125 dentists, hygienists, physicians, nurses, educators, researchers and dietitians to discuss ways the professions can work collaboratively on prevention.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. And because obese youth are more likely to be obese as adults, this can put them on a path to heart disease, type 2 diabetes and many other serious medical conditions as adults.

It’s a problem no one profession can solve singlehandedly, which is why words like interprofessional and collaboration were stressed repeatedly during the two-day event.

During the conference, presenters shared studies, evidence-based recommendations and advocacy efforts already in motion. They also discussed new ways to engage parents, educators, communities and insurers on the importance of the issue.

This need for health professionals to work together was timely: On Nov. 1, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued draft guidance recommending clinicians screen for obesity in children and adolescents age 6 years and older.

While proposed solutions such as oral health curriculum in schools, increased chair-side screenings and dentists providing nutrition guidance were favorable received, so were the existing barriers. For every potential game-changer exists the sobering reality that everyone—be it a solo practice, dental school or hospital — needs more time, money and training. The issues of reimbursement — would insurance cover this? — and mostly incompatible relationship between medical and dental electronic health records were also discussed.

In addition to talking solutions, presenters and participants alike talked evidence, and the need for more of it.

Healthy Futures was organized by the ADA, National Maternal and Child Oral Health Resource Center, American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, American Dental Hygienists’ Association and Santa Fe Group. It was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and its commitment to eliminating young children’s consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and ensuring children enter kindergarten at a healthy weight. A reception was provided by the DentalQuest Foundation.

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