Purpose: Early Childhood Caries (ECC) is a rapid and rampant form of dental caries that can compromise a child's self esteem, nutritional intake, oral development and quality of life. ECC affects approximately 20% of American infants and toddlers annually. The purpose of this study was to determine dental hygienists' knowledge, attitudes and practice behaviors regarding ECC.
Methods: Seven hundred and fifty randomly sampled licensed Maryland hygienists were surveyed using a mailed questionnaire consisting of 42 items including knowledge, attitudes and practice behaviors of dental hygienists related to ECC. A 41% response rate was achieved (n=308). To assess differences in knowledge, attitudes and practice behaviors among Maryland hygienists, characteristics such as age, degree earned, years since graduation, primary practice type, percentage of children in practice, percentage of Medicaid patients treated, hours practiced and membership status in the American Dental Hygienists' Association were included.
Results: Knowledge of ECC and the current use of appropriate treatment protocols were mixed. Practicing Maryland dental hygienists were correct only 50 to 60% of the time. In addition, results show that treating more children enrolled in Medicaid made it more likely that hygienists knew about the appropriate timing of the first dental visit and its relationship to ECC. Results also show that dental hygienists with more experience were more likely to know of the appropriate treatment protocols than hygienists with less experience.
Conclusion: The study results suggest that certain characteristics of dental hygienists do make a difference in knowledge, attitudes and practice behaviors about ECC. This baseline study also reveals that there is a need to enhance dental hygienists' knowledge, attitudes and prevention efforts about ECC through further education courses.