Improving Access to Prenatal Oral Health Care

Understanding how improved access to dental treatment affects the oral-health knowledge and behavior of at-risk pregnant women in Milwaukee

Full Project Name:Improving Access to Prenatal Oral Health Care: Strategies & sustainabilityPrimary Community Organization:Columbia st. Mary'sPrimary Academic Partner:James Sanders, MD, MPH, Family and Community MedicineAward Amount:$199,101
Award Date
January2013
Project Duration:24 months

Project Description Narrative:


Oral health is an integral component of overall health and well-being — and is particularly important during pregnancy when hormonal changes make the gums more susceptible to swelling and infection. Studies have linked poor oral health, especially periodontal (gum) disease, with poor birth outcomes. The presence of oral disease can take a disproportionate toll on pregnant women living in poverty, a powerful social determinant of oral health. In fact, the U.S. Surgeon General identified a "silent epidemic" of oral disease among the poor in racial and ethnic minority groups.

Access to dental care remains a significant problem in Wisconsin. In Milwaukee, where the poverty rate is a reported 41.4% among African-Americans and 32.3% among Hispanics, access for at-risk pregnant women is scarce.

To address this need, partners aim to establish sustainable oral health services that will contribute to a dental safety net for pregnant African-American and Hispanic women in Milwaukee and study the relationship between oral health and poor birth outcomes to better understand how improved access to dental treatment may affect the health awareness and behavior of at-risk pregnant women.

Community partners:
Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers

Outcomes & Lessons Learned:


• Established robust community partnerships that include a network of referral collaborators, creating a collaborator network committee to integrate new clinical approaches to dntal treatment for pregnatn women into clinical service protocols

• Established a system of care to refer at-risk pregnant African American and Hispanic women to the project, exceeding project goals of the number of women completing the program, and hired a case manager to help patients navigate between prenatal and oral care services

• Conducted a financial analysis to demonstrate program sustainability through insurance billing and volunteer support from professional caregivers

• Promoted improved oral health literacy aimed at increasing patient compliance and improving physician and provider counseling by conducting patient education and establishing an annual training for Columbia St. Mary’s Family Health Center residents

• Presented project at various meetings and events such as AHW events and the State of Wisconsin Oral Health Conference and through Ascension Health

• Leveraged approximately $42,000 through in-kind time from project partners

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