Impact of Early Head Start in North Carolina on Dental Care Use Among Children Younger Than 3 Years

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Abstract

Objectives

To examine the effects of North Carolina Early Head Start (EHS), an early education program for low-income children younger than 3 years and their families, on dental care use among children.

Methods

We performed a quasi-experimental study in which we interviewed 479 EHS and 699 non-EHS parent-child dyads at baseline (2010-2012) and at a 24-month follow-up (2012-2014). We estimated the effects of EHS participation on the probability of having a dental care visit after controlling for baseline dental care need and use and a propensity score covariate; we included random effects to account for EHS program clustering.

Results

The odds of having a dental care visit of any type (adjusted odds ratio [OR] = 2.5; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.74, 3.48) and having a preventive dental visit (adjusted OR = 2.6; 95% CI = 1.84, 3.63) were higher among EHS children than among non-EHS children. In addition, the adjusted mean number of dental care visits among EHS children was 1.3 times (95% CI = 1.17, 1.55) the mean number among non-EHS children.

Conclusions

This study is the first, to our knowledge, to demonstrate that EHS participation increases dental care use among disadvantaged young children.

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