The Social Side of Dental Caries Prevention

written by CariFree

Children Kids Diversity Friendship Happiness Cheerful Concept

Recent research coming from Boston University suggests our traditional one-on-one behavioral interventions with patients may not be the best for long-term preventive behaviors. In fact, researcher Brenda Heaton, an assistant professor of health policy and health services research at Boston University’s Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine offers information that may change the way information is dispersed throughout communities in order to have larger, long-term effect.


Heaton specializes in social epidemiology with a focus on oral health. In 2008, she, along with other members of BU’s Center for Research to Evaluate & Eliminate Dental Disparities, began a new line of research, focused on understanding oral health and disease among residents in Boston public housing. The majority of the work to date has focused on whether or not “motivational interviewing” can influence how women care for their children’s diet and oral health—specifically, the impact on kids with dental caries (also known as tooth decay). There is mounting evidence that one-on-one behavioral interventions, like motivational interviewing, may change short-term behavior, but the effects don’t last long. “We started to get a sense that there may be more influences that we need to acknowledge beyond just the individual,” says Heaton. She found that social networks—not Facebook and Twitter, but networks of friends, family, and acquaintances—may play an overlooked role in oral health care.


Since 2008, her team has interviewed close to 200 women living in Boston public housing and identified nearly 1,000 individuals who were influential. Heaton is using those network maps to find similarities about how information flows through these communities.

The ultimate goal, she says, is to use the map to introduce health information and resources into a community in ways that change long-term behaviors.

“You can’t design those interventions until you actually have a really strong grasp of the network structure,” says Heaton. For instance, if you want to make an impact, should you look for community members with the most personal connections or for people with large influence but fewer personal ties? Should you take advantage of existing connections or seed new ones?

The power of this approach is that it focuses on prevention rather than cures, says Heaton. It might take a village, but tooth decay “is an entirely preventable health outcome.”


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What do you think? Is social mapping a positive move for oral health practitioners who want to prevent tooth decay?


2 Responses to “The Social Side of Dental Caries Prevention”

  1. Elise Tanner RDH, BS

    Silver Diamine Fluoride will change dentistry. We need to look at caries as a nutritional problem that is medically managed and is a billable service at a minimum of 500.00 per treatment, instead of drill, fill and bill. The easiest, most cost effective way of providing this treatment and monitoring it would be to have dental hygienist in schools providing it. Until this happens, all children will continue to suffer from this disease.
    I suggest you find a brand to sell.
    Elise Tanner RDH, BS

  2. Astrid Diepenbroek EFDH

    Social mapping can be useful. Within that map, check how many farmers markets, gardens, “slow” food restaurants are in the neighborhood. If the area where these groups meet is a “food desert”, with fast food and mini markets as the main source of nutrition, then that will be more of the “norm” of what area people eat. Food creates a lot of community, and people who eat similar kind of foods /meals together will be friends easier. The book “The Tipping Point” by M. Gladwell, explains how information is transmitted and accepted in community and “sticks” by powerful messaging and personality types in these communities, Agree with above comment that caries in part is nutritional problem. Also good food affordability and distribution issue. When salt, fat and sugar are less expensive than wholesome food, the poor and uneducated, or unmotivated will opt for the lesser in nutritional value.

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Category: Education