By Mr. Christopher James, NYU press office
The last time you were in your dentist’s waiting room, did you read a magazine? Or did you have
a nutrition consultation while you were waiting? Sound strange? Not so strange if you are at NYUCD’s pediatric clinic for a check-up.
Through a collaboration with the NYU Steinhardt School of Education’s Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, graduate students in the clinical nutrition program are working in the pediatric dental clinic to educate children and their caregivers about healthy food choices. The program began in 2005 and has been so successful that almost all of Steinhardt’s clinical nutrition interns spend two weeks of their 26-week internship at the pediatric dental clinic.
“The mouth is the beginning of the digestive tract and vital to good nutrition and overall health,” said Jill Fernandez-Wilson, Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatric Dentistry. “So it was a natural progression to work together.”
The vision of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry is “optimal health and care for infants, children, adolescents, and persons with special health care needs.” Pediatric dentists have a
wonderful opportunity to make an impact on their patients’ health through comprehensive nutritional and dietary counseling that goes beyond the
prevention of dental disease.
“The relationship between oral health and chronic disease supports the need for collaboration between dentistry and dietetics,” said Lisa Sasson, dietetic internship director and Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health. “Nutrition-related chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity, are among the top 10 leading causes
of death in the United States. Childhood obesity
is a growing concern for health practitioners,
with national and local prevalence rates reaching epidemic levels. Dental and nutrition professionals play key roles in the prevention and management of such public health issues.”
The nutrition students also do community outreach in the public schools that NYUCD visits.
“One of my favorite activities was participating in the dental school’s Head Start Program,”
comments Fran Condon, a master’s candidate in dietetics and nutrition. “The dentist talked to the kids about good dental and oral health, and I was able to talk to the kids about good nutrition. This really helped me to develop a sense of professional responsibility in the community.”
Condon remembers one particular family’s experience with her nutrition counseling.
“I was counseling a mother with three children, two boys and a girl, all having multiple cavities. Because all three children were seeing the dentist, I had the opportunity to see the family several times during my rotation.
“The mother was concerned that her children refused to eat vegetables,” continues Condon. “Although the mother had talked about why
vegetables were good for them numerous times
in the past, when they heard it from me it was like they heard it for the first time ever. Every
time the family came in, they would report to me, ‘the doctor,’ what vegetable they had eaten the night before."
“It didn’t matter that I told them many times that I was not a doctor,” says Condon. “I told them I was a nutritionist and they should call me Fran, but to them, I was the ‘food doctor.’ The kids were excited to report to me their good work and efforts to eat better.”
“The best aspect of this collaboration is to see the change in our pediatric residents and faculty,” notes Professor Fernandez-Wilson. “They are
so much more aware of the importance of good nutrition and its relationship to dental health."
“Personally I have changed my own eating habits, and I’m more careful of what I buy,” admits Professor Fernandez-Wilson. “I actually read food labels now.”