Diana Capobianco is a private practice pediatric dentist, Executive Board Maryland Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and Liaison to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and Maryland Chapter of AAP. Her career as a pediatric dentist includes working with infants, children, teens and individuals with intellectual disabilities and autism. Diana holds several positions in local county offices of the Maryland Department of Health and serves on the AAP Dentistry national education committee.
ED: How did you begin your work in early childhood?
My desire to work with kids goes way back to my own youth. I always enjoyed being around kids, baby-sitting and tutoring, assisting with kids at after-school play time, that sort of thing, but I also wanted to work in healthcare helping others. A career in pediatric dentistry was a natural melding of those pursuits.
ED: What efforts have you been involved in to improve the quality of early childhood programs and services?
I have spent a lot of volunteer hours providing direct services for children. This has included outreach efforts to provide preventive dental care for kids in underserved communities, screenings for children with special needs, screenings and oral health education in Early Head Start centers, and dental care for immigrant children through Catholic Charities. Most recently I have broadened my reach as a liaison to pediatricians with the goal of increasing inter-professional collaboration for oral health. There are successful models that incorporate oral health services in a primary pediatric care setting. This is an excellent example of expanding access to care for many children.
ED: What are some of the challenges you have experienced in your work and what strategies have you tried to overcome them?
Working with young children is so rewarding! But clinically there are challenges when trying to perform procedures on apprehensive kids. Lots of patience and understanding is crucial to help them overcome fears and to teach parents the value of oral health. Specialized training in pediatric dental residencies helps us hone our skills for success with little people.
Most people do not understand the impact of dental disease. Dental caries is the disease process that causes cavities. Dental caries are more prevalent than any other chronic disease of childhood. Nearly 30% of children aged 2–5 years and over 50% of children aged 6–8 years are affected. Cavities can cause pain and serious infections. Untreated caries may lead to many problems. This can include difficulty with eating, speaking, playing, and learning. According to Centers for Disease Control statistics, children who have poor oral health often miss more school and receive lower grades than children who don’t. Additionally, these children may suffer low self- esteem, issues with adult tooth development and problems with their future dentition. The good news is that a great deal of suffering can be eliminated by establishing a dental home by age one and receiving early preventive care.
I am currently working with medical counterparts to develop more oral health “touchpoints” such as in the pediatrician office, through school nurses and in early childhood programs such as Early Head Start and Women, Infant and Children centers. The more opportunities we have to provide oral health training to other professionals and disseminate information, the further our messages reach. But it is difficult. Primary medical care providers may have limits in their daily practice that make it challenging to alter already strained resources. Collaboration between healthcare providers seems to be the best strategy to address disparities in care.
ED: What suggestions do you have for others interested in improving early childhood services and programs?
Improving access to dental care has been on the national agenda for years. Progress has been made, but we have a long way to go. It takes continued awareness of the impact of dental disease, an understanding of the problem of children not having access to dental care, and gaining the support of stakeholders. Collaboration between medical and dental providers is a good step but we need more oral health champions at all levels. I would ask anyone working with children to encourage the caregiver to prioritize oral health.
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