Posted February 19, 2013

Kornberg School gets $1.75 million gift to improve children’s dental access

Temple’s Kornberg School of Dentistry, with support from United Healthcare and United Health Foundation, is launching Project ENGAGE, a $1.75 million initiative designed to improve children’s access to oral health care.

Recognizing that proper dental care is the single greatest unmet health need among children, Temple’s Kornberg School of Dentistry, with support from UnitedHealthcare and United Health Foundation, is launching Project ENGAGE, a $1.75 million initiative designed to improve children’s access to oral health care.

The program will be available to North Philadelphia children under the age of 6 and their families who are enrolled in the state’s Medicaid plan. The goal is to eventually expand the initiative to other parts of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and country.

“Project ENGAGE is an example of a new health promotion system that will reach out to children and families to assist them in getting dental care and remove barriers that prevent these children from having a dental home,” said Amid Ismail, dean of the Kornberg School of Dentistry.

Currently, fewer than 30 percent of the children under 6 living in the five zip codes (19121, 19122, 19132, 19133 and 19140) surrounding Kornberg’s North Philadelphia campus have access to proper dental care, often due to lack of awareness of the importance of oral health, limited transportation and access to qualified dental care providers. One of the program’s goals is to increase that access to at least 60 percent of the children.

“The neighborhoods served by Project ENGAGE have the highest cost of care for children’s dental care in Pennsylvania, in part because the parents of these children tend to seek dental care only when it’s an emergency and then seek that care at a hospital, which can be expensive,” said Ismail. “We need to shift the dental care from when the children have a problem to before the problem starts.”

The new program will create an oral health registry that will use dental claims information and operating and emergency department histories to identify children most at risk of developing any health issues as a result of tooth decay. An infectious disease that ranks as the most common chronic condition during childhood, tooth decay is five times more prevalent in children than asthma, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. If left untreated, it can cause infections and illness, and affect the development of permanent teeth.

“No child should have tooth decay,” said Ismail. “This disease can be prevented.”

Community health workers will provide these children and their families, including siblings and pregnant women, with information, counseling and assistance in scheduling dental appointments. Public health dental hygienists will also be available to provide in-home care and additional treatments, such as fluoride varnishes and sealants.

The program will also provide training for primary care physicians to encourage preventive screenings and to apply dental varnish, while also giving general dentists who do not currently provide dental care for very young children the support and information needed to care for children. Studies show that children should begin seeing a dentist before their first birthday.

Project ENGAGE is being funded with a $1 million grant from United Health Foundation and another $750,000 from UnitedHealthcare. Temple will work to create the registry and coordinate the interventions to families, with assistance from UnitedHealthcare.

“By combining Temple University’s clinical expertise with UnitedHealthcare’s extensive claims information, we will promote oral health, expand access to care and reduce the prevalence of dental disease,” said Michael Weitzner, DMD, MS, vice president, UnitedHealthcare Dental. “We have the unique opportunity to enhance the health delivery system and improve health outcomes for thousands of children in Pennsylvania.”