Dentist by 1 – Encouraging Good Oral Health Habits Among Illinois Children

Posted on August 17, 2015 in In the Community

Dentist by 1 event on July 31 in Peoria

Dentist by 1 event on July 31 in Peoria
Photo courtesy of Illinois Central College

A child's health is important to any parent.  In fact, the first thing most parents wish for when they are expecting a child is for their child to be born healthy.  A child's overall health is always at the forefront of a parent's mind; however, many parents are unaware that their child's oral health can have an effect on their child's overall health and well-being.

Nationally, about 22 percent of children ages 2 to 5 have had a cavity.1 In addition, the bacteria that cause decay can spread from a diseased baby tooth to a permanent tooth that is developing underneath the gum line. By the time a child is in the third grade, more than half of children have experienced tooth decay, making it the most common childhood disease.2 Tooth decay can be painful and affects a child's ability to eat, speak and learn.  Fortunately, cavities are nearly 100 percent preventable with regular visits to the dentist and good oral hygiene habits, such as brushing twice a day, flossing and using a fluoride rinse.

“Many parents have the misconception that a cavity in a baby tooth doesn't matter since their child will lose the tooth in a couple of years,” said Dr. Katina Spadoni, dental director for Delta Dental of Illinois.  “However, healthy baby teeth are incredibly important.  Dental disease in baby teeth can affect permanent teeth.  Good oral health habits must start at a young age to ensure a lifelong healthy smile.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that a child first visit the dentist within six months of getting the first tooth or by the child's first birthday.  Tooth decay can occur as soon as teeth appear in the mouth.  Visiting the dentist can benefit not only children, but also parents. A dental visit can help prevent tooth decay and establish a good relationship between a child and a dentist. Parents are also able to learn how to care for children's teeth directly from a dentist.

In 2012, the Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation launched the Dentist by 1 program to encourage parents to take children to the dentist by age 1 and to provide free dental care to young children.  The Dentist by 1 program is comprised of an oral health education and awareness campaign for parents and children, training sessions for dental and medical professionals to encourage providing care to young patients and free dental care events for children aged 5 and under.

“One of the challenges we face in the community at large is a lack of awareness about the importance of oral health and that good oral health habits should start early in life,” said Dr. Lance Lambert, pediatric dentist and Dentist by 1 ambassador.  “There are a lot of kids that come into my practice who are 4 or 5 years old with a lot of dental problems, and it truly breaks my heart.  I'd much rather have happy checkups than have to take a child to the hospital because they have cavities in 16 out of 20 teeth.  There is a huge need for dental education and care in Illinois, and the Dentist by 1 program gives me the opportunity to help in a much bigger capacity than just my local community.”

Since 2013, the Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation has hosted a two-day Dentist by 1 educational session and free dental care community service event.   The goal of the educational session is to train oral health professionals on the components of a pediatric dental exam so more dentists are comfortable treating young patients, and more young patients get the early dental care they need. Those trained then are able to use their newly acquired skills to treat young patients at a free dental care event the next day. Through this program, children in Elgin and Mattoon, Ill., have received free care while they and their caregivers also received important oral health education. This year on July 31, children in the Peoria area and their caregivers benefitted from the Dentist by 1 event. In partnership with Illinois Central College, Peoria County Health Department and OSF Children's Hospital of Illinois, the Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation provided free dental care to 50 children aged 5 and younger.

The Dentist by 1 program aims to educate parents about the importance of a dental visit by age 1.  For the parents who brought their children in for free dental care, the message certainly resonated through their firsthand experience.

“I didn't know my son had a cavity until we reviewed the X-ray he received at the Dentist by 1 event,” said Mona Debshaw, mother of a 5-year-old patient. “We pretty much brush his teeth and rinse every day, so I thought his teeth would be good.  I usually just let him brush on his own, but I learned that until my child is 9-years-old, I should help, especially at night.”

“Before I came to the Dentist by 1 event, I thought you should bring your child to the dentist when they got all their teeth in,” said Erin Crossett, mother of a 14-month-old patient.   I didn't realize it was before they are 1, even.  That was a neat thing to learn.”

Oral health professionals, including dentists, hygienists and dental assistants, from across the state provided the dental care, and also learned valuable skills in treating young patients.

“We are so glad we could work with the Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation and provide dental care to young children no matter what their circumstances may be,” said Cathleen Korondi, dental hygiene program director and clinic coordinator for Illinois Central College.  “At our clinic, we see so many children with extensive tooth decay that are under the age of three.  If we can educate parents and children about oral health and instill good habits at an early age, then these children are more likely to have good oral health into adulthood and for the rest of their lives.”

To support the Dentist by 1 program and help provide free dental care to more Illinois children, visit