DETROIT, MI — Most people are well aware of the importance of consistent prenatal care for a healthy pregnancy, but less well known is the impact of regular dental care.
“Hormonal changes during pregnancy put women at increased risk for periodontal disease, cavities and a condition called ‘pregnancy gingivitis’ — tender gums that bleed easily,” said Mert Aksu, D.D.S., dean of University of Detroit Mercy School of Dentistry. He explained that mothers’ oral health during pregnancy could have an impact on babies, adding, “Pregnant women with cavities can transmit cavity-causing bacteria to their infants.”
Yet, all too often, pregnant women do not seek or receive dental care, in some cases due to lack of access to affordable care.
That is why Detroit Mercy Dental is partnering with six medical sites around the state to provide prenatal and perinatal oral health care to high-risk populations of pregnant women, thanks to a grant from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
“We are pleased to work with Detroit Mercy Dental on this important initiative. The gap in dental insurance coverage for this population that this effort will fill is crucial to ensuring oral health. Combined with the long-standing history that Detroit Mercy Dental has in helping under-served populations throughout SE Michigan, we feel this partnership could establish a model for future programs of this nature," said Kathy Stiffler, acting Medicaid director of the DHHS.
The grant, which totals $969,400 over 15 months, began June 1 and allows the school and its partners to work with women and their physicians to ensure sure they both understand the importance of a comprehensive oral health plan and have access to dental care. By integrating a registered dental hygienist within the prenatal medical visit, clinics help normalize oral health as part of the overall health of the patient. The hygienist will care for the mother, educate her about healthy behaviors like brushing with fluoride toothpaste, and make a plan for both the mother and child to visit the dentist before the child’s first birthday.
“We have historically been a leader in providing quality patient care, and we are happy to join with Detroit Mercy on a grant-funded project that will efficiently deliver patient-centered care to pregnant mothers,” said Doug Saylor, M.D., chief medical officer at Great Lakes Bay Health Centers in Saginaw, one of the sites. “By seeing patients where they already are, in this case it is mothers at prenatal visits, we can incorporate oral health care services as part of a comprehensive visit for the patient.”
For Detroit Mercy Dental, this initiative is one more way to help underserved populations overcome barriers to care, in keeping with the mission of its religious founders, the Jesuits and the Sisters of Mercy.
“Community service has always been an integral part of our identity as an institution,” said Aksu. “We’re pleased to have a new opportunity to reach patients who might otherwise fall through the cracks.”
To learn more about Detroit Mercy Dental, please visit https://dental.udmercy.edu/index.php.