“I want physicians to understand it’s part of their domain. I want patients to understand it’s part of the physician’s domain,” said Melinda Clark, M.D., a pediatrician who lectures on the issue at Albany Medical College and practices out of the Medical Center General Pediatric Group. “It needs to become part of the normal dialogue.”
Albany Med’s Renee Samelson, M.D., board certified in Ob/Gyn, Maternal–Fetal Medicine, and Preventive Medicine/Public Heath, co-edited the first Clinical Practice Guidelines for Oral Health Care during Pregnancy, a collaborative project with the New York State Department of Health. Drs. Clark and Samelson have been working for more than a decade stressing the importance of oral health to overall wellness of a mother and newborn.
The efforts are gaining traction. Earlier this year the New York City Health Department launched a campaign to promote oral health for young children, noting one in three third-graders had tooth decay and more than half have had a cavity.
Dr. Samelson said early childhood caries (cavities) is in fact a preventable infectious disease that can be spread through bacteria in saliva from the mother. Saliva-sharing activities such as tasting infant food on the spoon and cleaning the face of an infant with saliva can cause infection in the baby.
Both doctors are educating their physician colleagues about the safety and effectiveness of dental care during pregnancy. They are also educating women and correcting the often-held misconception that dental care is dangerous during pregnancy.
The doctors advocate that physicians do initial oral health risk assessments on patients to forestall painful conditions that could be passed on to children. They also call on pediatricians to do the same with kids.
“There may be fear among physicians because doctors are not necessarily trained to do dental assessments,” Dr. Clark said. She said health professionals need to know that tooth decay is the most common chronic disease of childhood, one that causes pain and suffering in children, results in missed school days and is linked to poorer control of major medical conditions.
“We, as medical professionals, can’t say `It’s not our job,’” Dr. Clark said.
Albany Medical Center, northeastern New York’s only academic health sciences center, is one of the largest private employers in the Capital Region. It incorporates the 651-bed Albany Medical Center Hospital, which offers the widest range of medical and surgical services in the region, and the Albany Medical College, which trains the next generation of doctors, scientists and other healthcare professionals, and which also includes a biomedical research enterprise and the region’s largest physicians practice with nearly 400 doctors. Albany Medical Center works with dozens of community partners to improve the region’s health and quality of life. For more information: www.amc.edu or www.facebook.com/albanymedicalcenter.