A qualitative study of the multi-level influences on oral hygiene practices for young children in an Early Head Start program

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Abstract

Background: Individual child-level risk factors for Early Childhood Caries (ECC) have been studied, but broader family- and community-level influences on child oral hygiene behaviors are less well understood. This study explored multiple levels of influence on oral hygiene behaviors for young children in Early Head Start (EHS) to inform a future behavioral intervention targeting children from low-income families. Methods: Twenty-four semi-structured interviews were conducted with mothers of children under 4 years old, enrolled in the home visitor (HV) component of one EHS program in Los Angeles, CA, who participated in the BEhavioral EConomics for Oral health iNnovation pilot study (BEECON) in 2016-7. Audio-recordings of interviews were translated if needed, and transcribed in English, and coding and analysis was facilitated by Dedoose qualitative software. This investigation used general thematic analysis guided by the Fisher-Owens child oral health conceptual framework to identify influences on oral hygiene behaviors for the young children. Results: Many mothers reported brushing their children's teeth twice/day, and concern that most children frequently resisted brushing. They identified children being sick or tired/asleep after outings as times when brushing was skipped. Several child-, family-, and community-level themes were identified as influences on child oral hygiene behaviors. At the child-level, the child's developmental stage and desire for independence was perceived as a negative influence. Family-level influences included the mother's own oral hygiene behaviors, other family role models, the mother's knowledge and attitudes about child oral health, and mothers' coping skills and strategies for overcoming challenges with brushing her child's teeth. Overall, mothers in the EHS-HV program were highly knowledgeable about ECC risk factors, including the roles of bacteria and sugar consumption, which motivated regular hygiene behavior. At the community-level, mothers discussed opportunities to connect with other EHS-HV families during parent meetings and playgroups that HV coordinated. A few mothers noted that EHS-HV playgroups included brushing children's teeth after snacking, which can be a potential positive influence on children's hygiene practices. Conclusion: Child-, family- and community-level factors are important to consider to inform the development of tailored oral health preventive care programs for families in EHS-HV programs.

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Finlayson, T. L., Cabudol, M., Liu, J. X., Garza, J. R., Gansky, S. A., & Ramos-Gomez, F. (2019). A qualitative study of the multi-level influences on oral hygiene practices for young children in an Early Head Start program. BMC Oral Health, 19(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12903-019-0857-7

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