WIC Pilot Program Launches Preventive Dental Services to Children in Detroit and Beyond

December 14, 2017

Ann Arbor, MI — A partnership between several nonprofit and government organizations has led to more than 1,000 children over the past year visiting a dentist in Wayne County.

The pilot program, funded by the Delta Dental Foundation, brings together Altarum’s Michigan Caries Prevention Program and McMillen Health to provide oral health training and program evaluation to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program.

Through this program, 30 staff at five Michigan WIC clinics in Detroit received BRUSH oral health training from McMillen Health on how to integrate oral health education and dental referrals into the nutrition education provided to mothers with young children. In visits with WIC staff, families received oral health education appropriate to their child’s age, resources (toothbrushes, fingerbrushes, etc.), as well as a referral to a dentist based on ZIP code.

The program resulted in an increase in awareness among WIC staff of the recommended age for a child's first dental visit-- 6 months to 1 year or when teeth erupt (from 43% to 95%), and also an increase in comfort level among staff in discussing oral health issues (from 36% to 86%). As a result of this training, WIC staff were equipped with the education and tools needed to refer their clients to dental services. Early dental care is critical to preventing dental disease in adults, a costly but largely preventable condition.

“The BRUSH pilot has been wonderful for our WIC Program!” said Summer Korponic, WIC Program Director at the Arab American and Chaldean Council (ACC) Clinic. “The BRUSH pilot provided our WIC staff with solid training and beautiful education resources to support the oral health education messages we already share with clients. The training session aligned our message with oral health providers, giving our program more credibility with clients. Now, clients are leaving with tools to follow through at home, which they love and appreciate. The BRUSH Pilot added the tools and resources necessary for clients to fully commit to their family’s oral health.”

Ora Rosenfeld, Registered Dietitian at the ACC Clinic, “The BRUSH pilot has been very well received by our clients. Parents told me at their next appointment that they are using their gum brushes twice a day!”

Altarum used data from the WIC program to assess the frequency and characteristics of dental referrals following the BRUSH Curriculum training and to determine the percent of referrals that result in a dental visit. Altarum then linked program utilization data to Michigan Medicaid enrollment and utilization data to estimate the percent of children referred who had a dental visit following the referral. About 25% of WIC pilot participants had a dental visit after referral compared to the dental visit rate of 18.2% for matched controls; an increase of 38%.

The increase in dental visit rates was most pronounced for children aged 1 and 2 years, a group that has traditionally been least likely to have dental visits. Most of the children referred by the WIC clinics who saw a dentist received preventive services. With more than 1,000 children successfully visiting a dentist following the referral, this is particularly important since numerous pediatric and dental organizations stress the importance of having children establish a dental home at an early age to minimize the occurrence of early childhood caries.

“At the Delta Dental Foundation, we believe that education is key to improving oral health. This program provides WIC staff with the tools needed to educate mothers about the importance of good oral health and helps connect them with dental care for their children. The results of the first year are excellent, and we are pleased to support the expansion of the program this year,” said Teri Battaglieri, Delta Dental Foundation Director.

The pilot has been expanded for 2017, with an additional 46,000 children, or 20% of the state’s WIC participation, that now have access to the program —spreading education, knowledge, and healthier smiles across the state. New clinics started their pilot efforts in April 2017, and the second year of funding continues to support the clinics from the first year.

Altarum is a nonprofit organization that works with federal and state agencies and foundations to design and implement solutions to improve the health of individuals with fewer financial resources and populations disenfranchised by the health care system. We achieve measurable results by combining our expertise in public health and health care delivery with technology, workforce training and continuing education, applied research, and technical assistance. Our innovative solutions lead to better health for beneficiaries and better value for payers.