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Release: Immediate

ICN helps UI stress importance of early dental care for children

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa College of Dentistry is using the Iowa Communications Network (ICN) to reach dental professionals across the state, helping to spread word about the importance of early dental care for children.

In December the college offered a continuing education program titled "Bottles, Bugs and Teeth: Oral Disease in Infants and Toddlers" via the ICN -- a unique, statewide fiber optic network that links Iowa educational institutions, libraries, hospitals and other sites.

Arthur Nowak, D.D.S., UI professor of pediatric dentistry, said that in many ways, the course's topic was ideally suited to the ICN. "The ICN is an easy way to access a large number of dentists who are unable to travel to Iowa City for a continuing education course," he said.

The goal of the December course was to raise awareness and comfort treating young children among dentists, dental hygienists and dental assistants. The half-day program drew 43 dentists and 102 staff members at the UI and 16 sites across the state. No one traveled more than 25 miles to take part in the course.

National pediatric dentistry organizations recommend that children first see a dentist at about 12 months of age, when infants' first teeth begin to appear. But many children do not see their dentists until much later, and many dentists don't realize that early dental care is important. A recent study of Iowa dentists found that only 11 percent recommended care by age 1.

"Several hundred children under 3 are hospitalized each year in Iowa for severe cavities that start around age 1," said Michael Kanellis, D.D.S., UI associate professor of pediatric dentistry, who helped teach the course. He added that in 1994, Medicaid hospitalization costs for dental care of children age 5 and younger totaled $546,000.

Early visits to the dentist can help preserve health and cut costs by identifying children most at risk of tooth decay -- including children from low-income families, children who are put to bed with a bottle or who have irregular dental hygiene, and children born with poor tooth enamel. These visits let dentists customize a preventive program for each patient and alert parents to oral health problems that can occur as children develop. They also serve to establish a "dental home" for children, a place to go for regular care and emergency treatment if necessary.

Faculty and staff at the UI coordinated the course presentation, which included live lectures, taped demonstrations and frequent breaks for questions. Participants at remote sites watched the presentation from their local ICN facilities. When a course participant asked a question, his or her image was broadcast to all sites on the network.

Feedback from the course was overwhelmingly positive. Most who commented found the course relevant to their practices, adding that it made them more likely to treat infants and toddlers. Many appreciated the convenience of the ICN and judged the course less expensive than traditional programs. "The savings aren't necessarily in fees, but in time and travel," Nowak said.

An annual business meeting of the Iowa Society of Pediatric Dentistry immediately followed the course, which to Nowak's knowledge was the first such meeting conducted via the ICN. He said that Larry Lang, D.D.S., ISPD president, had seen the course as an opportunity to reach the organization's membership across the state and to discuss important agenda items.

The UI College of Dentistry will offer several more continuing education courses over the ICN in January and February. For more information, contact Jamie Sharp, continuing education coordinator, at (319) 335-7166.