A University of Manitoba research project has received a $1.5 million grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to reduce the high rate of early childhood tooth decay among First Nations and Métis children in Manitoba.
This new five-year study is led by the First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba, the Manitoba Metis Federation and U of M researchers.
The purpose of the project is to address the significant oral health gap between First Nations and Métis children compared to other Canadian children.
“We find that tooth decay for children under age six is very prevalent in Canada,” said Dr. Robert Schroth, professor of preventive dental science in the Dr. Gerald Niznick College of Dentistry on Thursday.
“Some populations are affected at higher rates than others, specifically, populations that have limited access to care. One of the groups impacted by early childhood tooth decay tends to be our Indigenous children.”
Every year in Manitoba, around three thousand children undergo pediatric dental surgery under general anaesthesia.
The high number of surgeries deal with tooth decay, however, it does not address the reason children are developing the cavities in the first place.
The U of M is trying to work with their Indigenous partners using community development principles to allow them to come up with strategies and approaches to promote oral health as well as consider certain cultural practices used for teething and to care for children’s teeth.
This new project stems from a previous project Schroth had worked with two Métis and two First Nations communities to find various methods to adapt Manitoba’s long-running Healthy Smile Happy Child initiative to make it more culturally relevant.
Healthy Smile Happy Child initiative promotes early childhood oral care to parents and caregivers.
The ongoing tooth decay project will be conducted in approximately 10 urban and rural First Nations and Métis partner communities.
The project’s first objective is to integrate Indigenous teachings into Healthy Smile Happy Child by sharing traditional stories about keeping teeth healthy and discussing traditional ways to feed and comfort infants.
U of M’s second objective for the project is to improve access to care by implementing risk assessment of tooth decay by non-dental primary care providers.
Non-dental health-care workers will be trained in the risk assessment tool used to evaluate young children’s oral health.
The assessment tool will help guide local doctors and nurses to apply fluoride varnish, refer the child to a dentist and make additional recommendations to the parent or caregiver if a child’s risk score for decay is high.
“A lot of times, our Indigenous children are only presenting to care once they have problems that are too advanced to fix,” said Schroth.
— Nicole Wong is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Nicole Wong, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun