Purpose: Dental caries is a chronic childhood disease disproportionately affecting children from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Free preventive oral health events sponsored by dental organizations are frequently under enrolled. The purpose of this study was to explore parental perceptions and barriers to participation in preventive dental care programs for their children.Methods: The transtheoretical model and social cognitive theory were used to design this qualitative case study. Open-ended questions were used to interview 20 purposefully sampled participants regarding their perceptions of free preventive dental care programs. Interviews were audio recorded, data were transcribed verbatim, coded, and analyzed thematically until saturation.Results: Two male and 18 female parents ranging in age from 22 to 49 years, with at least one child enrolled in a Title 1 New York City public elementary school, agreed to participate. Nine themes emerged from the data addressing the primary research question on the perceived barriers preventing parents from allowing their children to attend a free preventative dental care program. The themes included too busy, afraid, lack of trust, cultural differences, lack of awareness of the program, cost of care, money, negative childhood experiences and lack of dental insurance.Conclusion: Results from this study demonstrate the need to understand barriers to full enrollment in preventive oral health programs. Particular attention should be given to cultural differences between the program providers and the local residents. Preventative oral health program organizers need to explore multiple communication options to notify parents of upcoming programs.
Keywords: access to care; dental caries; dental public health; pediatric oral health.
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