This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Questions &Answers

Published: February 3, 2005

Paul R. Creighton is clinical assistant professor and assistant dean for community dentistry in the Department of Pediatric and Community Dentistry, School of Dental Medicine.

Pediatric dentistry seems to be a relatively new specialty in the dental profession. Why is there a need for this specialty?
Actually, it's not that new. There is a need because children are not little adults—they are children with their own set of needs. Even though we have so many new advances in dentistry—materials, techniques, equipment—fear continues to prevail in our profession. Kids come in afraid because they may have the idea of pain implanted in their minds from their parents or because they just are afraid of the unknown. In pediatric dentistry, we try to familiarize the child to the physical surroundings and the idea that the child needs to take care of his or her mouth.

What is the mission of the community dentistry program?
The mission is to raise the dental IQ of the community. Research has shown that oral conditions can affect systemic health. Cardiac condition is affected by oral health. We tell children in the classrooms that the mouth is connected to the body. A lot of people do not understand this. Many people will tolerate minor infections in their mouths but will not tolerate them in different parts of their bodies. We want the people in our community to place a priority on maintaining their oral health. Think about this: You're a student at the university. You wake up late for class and you have to make a decision: Do you brush your hair or do you brush your teeth? I can almost guarantee you that a majority of people will brush their hair instead of their teeth.

Tell me about some of the outreach programs offered.

We have a number of outreach programs. Here are just a few that involve students from the School of Dental Medicine:

  • Head Start programs. The dental school has a partnership with Head Start. Dian Wells, director of community outreach for the dental school, and Rebecca Baty, outreach coordinator, have been instrumental in developing this partnership. Eighty percent of dental problems are found in 20 percent of the population. And this 20 percent is really from the lower socioeconomic populations. Head Start is well-organized in Buffalo. We have been very happy with our partnership. We currently have a program called "My Dentist, My Friend" in which dental students mentor children regarding diet and hygiene. It has been a very positive experience for the students, as well as our 4-year-old friends in Head Start.

  • Buffalo Public Schools. We have a partnership with the Buffalo Public Schools in which we rotate dental students weekly to different schools in our area. Again, the message they are carrying in the community is that children need to take care of their teeth.

  • Health Fairs. We participate in many different health fairs involving the elderly, as well as children. Dental students are very active in this effort to provide screenings that, in turn, allow for us to address access to dental care. So many people have no idea how they can access the care they need. We help with this effort.

  • Comprehensive Oral Health for Disabled Youth (COHDY). This is the special care dental program that is so important in our community. Oral health issues are a huge priority in our special care populations. We cover an age range from cradle-to-grave. We have a partnership with ASPIRE in which the emphasis is on screening and making sure that necessary dental work is completed.

  • Maternal/Infant Program. This program is focused on educating expectant mothers to maintain their oral health so that their new children will have healthy mouths. A "Bottle of Knowledge"—a baby bottle filled with all sorts of educational material—is given to all new parents.

February is National Children's Dental Health Month. Is the department planning any special activities?
There are three projects that we are really focused on. National Children's Dental Health is our "billboard month." We use this month to remind people that their oral health is so important. The first project is a national effort sponsored by the American Dental Association called "Give Kids a Smile." This is an access-to-care program. Basically, children receive free dental care. The School of Dental Medicine has a very healthy partnership with the local dentists in the community, and tomorrow our dental students, our pediatric dental residents, our faculty and local dentists will be treating children free of charge in the dental school. We anticipate seeing more than 500 children and hope to do everything from cleanings and orthodontic evaluations to extractions and restorations. Smile Education Day is being held on Feb 16. This is a great day when we infiltrate the community's elementary schools and deliver a program on the importance of oral health, good diet and visiting the dentist. Our program involves all of our 400 dental students, faculty and more than 150 dental offices in the community. We reach out to more than 40,000 households—40,000 children in eight counties of Western New York will go home that day with a free toothbrush, floss and educational information. The faculty and students also support two mall health fairs managed by the local dental society where people visit our exhibit and learn more about the full scope of dentistry.

What do you enjoy most about working with kids?
What I tell the dental students is that working with children is not a job—it's just fun! Working with children is great because you can have such a positive impact on a person's life.