OBJECTIVES: This cross-sectional study examined Early Head Start (EHS) teachers’ oral health program activities and their association with teacher and program characteristics.
METHODS: Self-completed questionnaires were distributed to the staff in all EHS programs in North Carolina. Variables for dental health activities for parents (four items) and children (four items) were constructed as the sum of responses to a 0-4 Likert-type scale (never to very frequently). Ordinary least squares regression models examined the association between teachers’ oral health program activities and modifiable teacher (oral health knowledge, values, self-efficacy, dental health training, perceived barriers to dental activities) and program (director and health coordinator knowledge and perceived barriers to dental activities) characteristics.
RESULTS: Teachers in the parent (n=260) and child (n=231) analyses were a subset of the 485 staff respondents (98 percent response rate). Teachers engaged in child oral health activities (range = 0-16; mean = 9.0) more frequently than parent activities (range = 0-16; mean = 6.9). Teachers’ oral health values, perceived oral health self-efficacy, dental training, and director and health coordinator knowledge were positively associated with oral health activities (P < 0.05). Perceived barriers were negatively associated with child activities (P < 0.05).
CONCLUSION: The level of oral health activity in EHS programs is less than optimal. Several characteristics of EHS staff were identified that can be targeted with education interventions. Evidence for effectiveness of EHS interventions needs to be strengthened, but results of this survey provide encouraging findings about the potential effects of teacher training on their oral health practices.