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Pediatric dentists help prevent tooth decay for children

by RADM Ty Reidhead, Acting Area Director, Phoenix Area Indian Health Service

Dr. Mary Beth Johnson’s path took her from the farms of Ohio to the Hopi Reservation in Arizona where the desert has been farmed for centuries. She now has the unique opportunity to provide dental care to families – everyone from toddlers to their great, great grandmothers – at the Hopi Health Care Center. Popular with the young ones for her Scooby Doo watch and Lion King scrubs that were handmade by her mother, Dr. Johnson was integral in the rollout of a significant performance improvement project for infant oral health.

Dr. Marybeth Johnson is a pediatric dentist at the Hopi Health Care Center.
Dr. Mary Beth Johnson is a pediatric dentist at the Hopi Health Care Center.

She campaigned for early dental visits for infants in order to lessen future dental disease burdens through medical provider education and community outreach. She used print media, radio and direct recruitment to reach families, which increased access by 140% and treatment completion in children two years old and younger by 304%! Dr. Johnson helped lead the building of an off-site pediatric dental operating room program from the ground up. She also provides dental screenings via teledentistry and offers subsequent care for school children participating in the comprehensive dental prevention program, which has successfully been implemented in six of the local schools.

Many children in Indian Country suffer from dental caries, or tooth decay, and rates are higher than other groups. By age five, approximately 75% of American Indian and Alaska Native children have experienced tooth decay. The Indian Health Service dental health care program has started to use therapeutic fillings -- or interim therapeutic restorations, or ITRs -- more and more, to ease the burden of dental cavities in our young patients. These types of fillings can often be done without the use of needles to get the tooth numb, and can stop the progression of dental cavities. The filling material of choice for many ITRs is glass ionomer because it has fluoride in it that can be recharged when you drink fluoridated water or use fluoridated toothpaste. With community outreach, and by using strategies that include topical fluoride and sealants, we are helping to prevent caries.

We appreciate our hardworking pediatric dentists like Dr. Johnson for helping to reduce the epidemic of dental caries for our young patients!

RADM Ty Reidhead, Acting Area Director, Phoenix Area Indian Health Service
RADM Charles Ty Reidhead (Three Affiliated Tribes) is the Acting Director of the Phoenix Area Indian Health Service, overseeing the delivery of healthcare to over 170,000 patients in Arizona, Nevada, and Utah. RADM Reidhead was formerly the Chief Medical Officer for the Phoenix Area providing clinical leadership to over 200 medical providers.