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ADA Foundation awards 24 Harris Fund grants to fight early childhood caries

September 02, 2013

By Jean Williams, ADA News staff

The Central Mississippi Down Syndrome Society gives credit where it's due.
The nonprofit is one of 24 recipients of the 2013 Samuel D. Harris Fund for Children's Dental Health grants thanks to a dental student's initiative, said Rebecca Phelps, the Jackson, Miss., program's executive director.

The ADA Foundation awarded more than $114,000 in grants to organizations engaged in the fight to end early childhood caries nationwide.

“Brannon Myrick, who is a dental student at University of Mississippi, contacted me several months ago about the possibility of including dental care advice in our parent guide, which we had not done in the past,” Ms. Phelps said. “Of course we thought it was a wonderful idea. He met with several dentists at the dental school to develop information on what specifically a child with Down syndrome would need as far as dental care that may be different from a typical child.”

Mr. Myrick took the lead and filled out the application for the ADA Foundation Harris Fund grant. The Central Mississippi Down Syndrome Society plans to use its $5,000 award to develop and print oral health care guides for parents learning to care for children with Down syndrome. The organization, founded in 2003, serves around 500 families, Ms. Phelps said.

“We're excited that we're going to be able to print new guides soon and include plenty of dental information for parents, along with all the other health care information that we already provide,” Ms. Phelps said.

Mr. Myrick, a second-year dental student at the University of Mississippi Medical Center School of Dentistry, has a 4-year-old daughter, Leighton, who has Down syndrome. He credits her with spurring his interest in dentistry, as a previous career in construction management wasn't conducive to the stability needed to raise her, he said. Mr. Myrick also previously had a career in nursing.

He said he believes that the specialized oral health information will have a huge impact on parents of children with Down syndrome.

“They say knowledge is power,” he said. “It gives parents the ability to make an informed decision. They'll have an idea of what to expect and it gives them a basis of terms, a good foundation to build off. I've talked to families that have children who are 8 or 9 years old, and they were excited about it because it's going to affect them, not just newborns, but everybody in the society.”

Mr. Myrick wrote the oral health information for the society under the guidance of dental school faculty. He said he tailored the information to cover the specific oral health needs and concerns related to children with Down syndrome, including increased risk for periodontitis. “I defined periodontitis and gingivitis—things like that,” Mr. Myrick said. “We talked about macroglossia. Children with Down syndrome usually don't actually have that, but their tongue seems enlarged because their oral vault is small, so they have a small oral cavity. I defined terms like hypodontia and microdontia.”

Other awards

The Foundation also awarded $5,000 to the Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, Department of Pediatric Dentistry for its Prenatal Oral Health Education Program to Reduce the Risk of Early Childhood Caries. Dr. Cheen Loo, an associate professor, directs the program, which provides an early oral health care promotion program to educate the parents of newborns about oral health in order to prevent early childhood caries in infants and toddlers.

The program tracks parents and their infants in an effort to keep them aligned with oral health information and services.

“After they give birth, we follow up with additional surveys to see if the oral health information and education that we've provided has been helpful to them,” Dr. Loo said. “We also offer them a place to bring their babies, if they don't have a place already preselected, to establish a dental home. If they're still coming in to Tufts for medical appointments, it's very convenient “¦ to set up a dental home here as well. We also can help set up a referral if they don't have a place that they've selected to go.”

Dr. Loo said that the dental school started the program in 2012.

“With this additional support, we hope to be able to continue the program and also maybe try to publish some of the results from what we've found,” Dr. Loo said. “We're going to be able to provide instructional and education material and also, with the study aspect, we are going to provide gift cards for the pregnant women. We are following up with additional surveys. Gift cards have been shown to be helpful to boost the response rates.”

The 2013 list of Harris Fund grant recipients includes:

• Arkansas Children's Hospital (Arkansas)

• Capital Area Community Services, Inc. (Michigan)

• Caridad Center, Inc. (Florida)

• Center for Oral Health (California)

• Central American Resource Center CARECEN (California)

• Central Mississippi Down Syndrome Society (Mississippi)

• Children's Dental Health Project (Washington, D.C.)

• Children's Dental Services (Minnesota)

• Community Dental Care (Minnesota)

• Dental Aid (Colorado)

• Detroit Parent Network (Michigan)

• Erie Family Health Center (Illinois)

• Family Service Association of San Antonio Inc. Head Start (Texas)
• Goodwin Community Health (New Hampshire)

• Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies Coalition Broward County (Florida)
• Indian Health Service Sioux San Hospital (South Dakota)

• Licking County Health Department (Ohio)

• Northeast Missouri Health Council (Missouri)

• Rochester Primary Care Network (New York)

• Tufts University School of Dental Medicine (Massachusetts)

• University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine (Pennsylvania)

• Virginia Garcia Memorial Foundation (Oregon)

• Well Child Center Elgin (Illinois)

• York City Bureau of Health (Pennsylvania)

The ADA Foundation established the ADAF Harris Fund for Children's Dental Health in 1997 to honor the legacy and spirit of Dr. Samuel Harris, a distinguished pediatric dentist and philanthropist. Since 1999, the Harris Fund has awarded grants to selected applicants whose oral health programs are designed to improve and maintain children's oral health through outreach, primary prevention, and education.

Find more information about ADAF programs at