Improvement in Action: Pediatric Dental Varnish

By the end of 2019, we aim to give HALF of the kids who visit us dental varnish—that's 7% above the national average.

Why? Because dental health for kids now means a future filled with healthy smiles. 

Caring for your teeth starts early

Dentists recommend brushing your teeth for two minutes. That can seem like an eternity for a kid. Just ask Dr. Parita Patel, Dental Director at Health Care for the Homeless.

“I always start by asking kids about their favorite food,” she says. “They usually say something like pupusas or hot dogs or pizza. And I tell them, ‘You want to be able to eat that when you’re older, right? You’ll need your teeth to chew, so start taking care of them now.’”

Dental varnish is one way to keep baby teeth safe

Tooth decay is one of the top health issues facing kids in the U.S. Untreated cavities can lead to fractured teeth and infection. Children with decay in their baby teeth are much more likely to have similar problems with their adult teeth. Unfortunately, for families we serve, dental care is out of often out of reach.

“Over half of the families we see do not have insurance,” says Dr. Iris Leviner, Director of Pediatrics and Family Medicine. “We see a lot of dental issues and definitely some urgent needs. Most of our clients wouldn’t be able to get dental care at all without our program.”

Luckily, dental varnish is an easily accessible and simple procedure that strengthens teeth and prevents decay.

We’re helping more kids get varnishes without seeing a dentist

In 2018, our dental and pediatric departments joined forces and expertise. 

This year, we've taken even more steps:

  • Easy-to-read varnish information at every clinic
  • Training (or re-training) for non-dental providers on how to apply the varnish
  • Better alerts in our system so providers know which children need their varnish

Now, when a child walks through our doors for a wellness check-up, their smile is a priority too! “Combining well-child visits with dental care just makes sense for these families,” Parita says. “When you teach a child the importance of brushing, flossing, and healthy eating, that’s something they can keep with them when they are adults and later when they’re parents themselves. It’s very powerful."

And it's working—in July, 50% of the kids we saw received dental varnish! 

In 2018 alone, our dental and pediatric departments worked together to give 1,000+ children preventive dental care and nutritional counseling. 

Between May and July, we have exceeded with an average of 53.7% of kids reaching dental varnish. That also puts us far ahead of the national average of 43%!

Read more about dental care impact 



Vanessa has the kind of smile that lights up a room. But those perfect teeth, and the joy behind them, once seemed out of reach.

“I never thought I’d be able to have teeth,” she said, fighting back tears. “I thought I would never smile again.”

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