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Gerald Ferretti crusades for healthy teeth in children

 

Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine’s new chair of pediatric dentistry, Gerald Ferretti, would like to see school buses rolling to a stop at the doors of Case’s dental school clinics on Emergency Drive.

It is all part of his vision to help children with a lack of access to dental care maintain good oral health.

Ferretti recently came to Case from the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry, where for more than 20 years he was a professor of pediatric dentistry and also director of Physicians Oral Health Education in Kentucky.

Officially joining Case October 1, Ferretti readied for his new faculty position with a strategic plan that includes education and community initiatives to reverse the early loss of teeth and tooth decay in children.

While baby teeth are eventually lost to make way for permanent teeth, Ferretti cites many reasons for preserving their health:

  • Losing baby teeth due to infections can cause disease in the new teeth forming.
  • Children can fall behind in school because of days missed from toothaches.
  • Oral infections can impact the child’s health later in life, with known health links to heart disease, diabetes and preterm labor.
  • The early loss can also have long-term economic consequences and impact job prospects by altering appearances with unhealthy or missing teeth.

As part of his campaign to save those first teeth, Ferretti envisions strengthening the graduate program in pediatric dental medicine and integrating oral health education into the curriculum and training of medical students and resident doctors at the Case School of Medicine and at University Hospitals of Cleveland’s Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital.

“We need to enlist non-dental personnel in our strategies,” he said, “because physicians and nurses see a child 12 to 14 times before a child may have its first dental visit.”

This initiative also reflects one of the major focuses of the U.S. Surgeon General, who wants oral health education integrated into medicine.

Ferretti also plans to increase the number of graduate dental students from six pediatric dental residents to eight. These graduate dental students obtain their specialized training in the Irving and Jeanne Tapper Pediatric Dental Clinic at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital. He also sees a boost in the clinic’s staff to accommodate expanded hours of operation.

While Tapper Clinic staff treats the oral health needs of children undergoing bone marrow, heart surgeries, cancer treatment or other health threatening illnesses, this hospital-based clinic also serves families seeking the specialized care of pediatric dentists or referrals from the family dentist for special oral health needs.

“The other part of my job is to give Case student dentists an excellent experience in pediatric dentistry in the student clinics in the dental school,” said Ferretti. “We want students to understand behavioral and development issues of children and to know how to treat all aspects of their dental diseases.”

Continuing education for the 50 area pediatric dentists is another priority and a vital part of his new role at Case. He plans to host professional meetings at the dental school every two months for dentists interested in new pediatric research and professional training.

Ferretti’s initiatives reflect his background in dental medicine and public health. One public health problem he would like to conquer is “baby bottle decay” that comes from the pooling of milk or juice behind the baby’s teeth when going to sleep—now cited by the U.S. Surgeon General as a contributor to an epidemic of early childhood caries.

Some children will suffer from such severe oral health problems that they need surgery to treat their oral infections, said Ferretti.

He would like to institute a national initiative at Case that treats preschool children in Head Start programs with a new fluoride varnish material that seals the baby teeth and reverses infections to rebuild these first teeth.

While at Kentucky, he trained teachers, school nurses and others in the user friendly treatment process, which is easily applied several times a year in a familiar setting like the classroom or doctor’s office.

Ferretti oversaw the fluoride varnish training of approximately 1,000 public health nurses over two years that has resulted in some 5,000 applications done monthly in Kentucky. An average application of fluoride varnish costs $10 per application, and compared to a $5,000 visit to the operating room by one child, Ferretti says, it is cost effective.

“We can treat quite a few children for what one operation costs,” he explained.

Early intervention is the key to healthy teeth. Efforts to apply the fluoride varnish program coupled with the intervention efforts of the Healthy Smiles Sealant Program under the direction of James Lalumandier, Case dental school’s chair of community dentistry, will preserve teeth, he said.

With intervention programs for preschoolers, Ferretti said he hopes to eliminate most of the dental infections that Case student dentists find in second-graders they examine in the Healthy Smiles program.

Lalumandier and Case dental students visited 98 schools last year for the Healthy Smiles Sealant Program in the Cleveland Municipal School District. The sealant program provides free dental examinations and sealants to healthy first permanent molars of second and sixth grade students. Children with dental needs are referred to a network of community dentists or the Case dental clinics.

The new pediatric dental chair trained for his doctor of dental science at Georgetown University, with his master’s of dental science from the University of Connecticut and a master’s of science in public health from the University of Kentucky.

In addition to his efforts in the areas of education and community outreach, he also plans to continue his research in the area of public health services.

 

About Case Western Reserve University

Case is among the nation's leading research institutions. Founded in 1826 and shaped by the unique merger of the Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve University, Case is distinguished by its strengths in education, research, service, and experiential learning. Located in Cleveland, Case offers nationally recognized programs in the Arts and Sciences, Dental Medicine, Engineering, Law, Management, Medicine, Nursing, and Social Work. http://www.case.edu.