Purpose: The objective of this study was to determine the oral health status of preschool children attending Head Start Centers in Maryland.
Methods: Clinical caries examinations were conducted on 482 children between ages 3-5 from 37 Maryland Head Start Centers in 2000. Additionally, 560 questionnaires were completed by their caretakers regarding their child's access to care, potential caries risk factors and history of toothaches.
Results: The overall prevalence of untreated decay was 52%, with a higher prevalence found in rural than urban centers (64% vs 48%). For all children, the mean decayed, filled surfaces (dfs) was 3.64, while the mean decayed surfaces (ds) was 2.90. For those who had caries experience, the dfs was 6.67 and the ds was 5.32. The percentage of children with caries increased by age from 43% for three-year-olds to 62% for four-year-olds. Of those children with caries experience, 17% had complained of a toothache and 9% reportedly cried because of a toothache.
Conclusions: Of significance in this study were the findings that: caries is highly prevalent in this underserved preschool population; pain due to dental caries is not uncommon; and there is little utilization of dental care despite federally mandated and Head Start and Medicaid requirements.