Children who saw their physician four or more times for preventative oral health services (POHS) before their third birthday experienced fewer dental caries than those who did not receive such services, according to a retrospective study.

“Medical visits with POHS were associated with a reduction in overall mean [decayed, missing, and filled primary teeth] in children,” noted Ashley M. Kranz, Ph.D., of the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry and colleagues.

POHS included services such as dental screening, application of topical fluoride, and oral health counseling of parents. Surveillance data and North Carolina Medicaid files for 29,173 kindergartners were studied. Of the sample, 69.7% did not receive POHS from physicians, while of the 8,851 who did receive POHS, 51.3% made one visit, 29.3% made two visits, 13.1% made three visits, and 6.3% made at least four visits to a physician that included POHS.

Overall, 47.9% participants in the study had greater than zero decayed, missing, and filled teeth (DMFT), and 25.3% of the children studied had greater than zero untreated decayed teeth (DT) by the time they entered kindergarten. On average, the research subjects had 2.19 DMFT and 0.76 DT.

DMFT differed significantly between children who made 1, 2, 3, and ≥ 4 physician visits with POHS. In fact, DMFT was lowest among the study participants who saw their physician the most times for POHS (mean DMFT = 1.76) and highest among the children who received no POHS from physicians (mean DMFT = 2.23).

Unlike DMFT, DT did not differ significantly between children who made varying amounts of medical visits for POHS.

“Development and testing of strategies to improve the linkage between medical and dental offices are needed to ensure the continuity of care for those children receiving POHS in medical settings,” according to the researchers.

Read the full study in Pediatrics ( doi:10.1542/peds/2014-2775 ).