DEC 26, 2019

Today on Inland Journal, a Washington oral health program for children is celebrating 20 years of caring for kids. The Access to Baby and Child Dentistry program, or ABCD, actually started in Spokane in 1995 at a time when only one-in-five children received dental checkups. Many families couldn’t afford visits to the dentist. Spokane dentists, physicians and the local health district worried about the effect that was having on the overall health of children.

Jared Evans is a pediatric dentist in Liberty Lake.

“Dental caries [cavities] were a silent epidemic in America and it was the most common disease of childhood, much more common than asthma and hay fever and any of those things that you usually see a lot of kids suffering from,” Evans said.

Spokane’s health district and partners created ABCD for families who qualified for Medicaid. Dentists who volunteer for the program are taught how to treat children. Coordinators such as Heather Gallagher help families get to the dentist.

“It was so successful that the Health Care Authority and Arcora Foundation stepped in and gave little mini-grants to start it in other counties,” Gallagher said.

Now ABCD has a presence in all 39 Washington counties. Gallagher coordinates it in Spokane and Lincoln counties.

“Once a year, each family gets in-depth education on what to expect as their child grows older. Things on nutrition and how it affects your teeth. How oral health affects your overall health. They get fluoride varnishes and, through ABCD, their pediatrician can also give them fluoride varnishes,” she said.

Since ABCD began operations, Gallagher says the number of children in Washington’s Apple Health Medicaid program who go to the dentist has increased from 20% to almost 55%. And the number of children who experience health problems due to dental issues has significantly decreased.

“Oral health can affect diabetes, being able to control it. If your child has issues with their heart, their oral health can affect that as well,” she said. “I think the message in Spokane is getting more and more clear that the mouth is part of the body and that we need to look at it as overall health, not separate. I still think we have a little ways to go.”

Advocates say ABCD has been a pioneer in children’s oral health. Other states have used it as a model for their own programs.

Jared Evans has been a pediatric dentist for 15 years. During that time, he says the medical community has discovered more about how bad oral health can lead to bad overall health.

Doug Nadvornick talks with Dr. Jared Evans about treating young patients and teaching families about the problems caused by bad oral health (about 10 minutes).

This is our last podcast for 2019. We’ll be back next year with new programs on a variety of topics. You can hear our past programs at the Spokane Public Radio website and subscribe to the podcast at Apple Podcasts, NPR One or Google Play.