First Nations and Metis peoples’ access and equity challenges with early childhood oral health: a qualitative study
Schroth, Robert J.
Edwards, Jeannette M.
Moffatt, Michael E. K.
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Abstract Background Inequities in early childhood oral health are evident amongst Indigenous peoples and communities in Manitoba, Canada. Early childhood caries (ECC) is decay in primary dentition in children under 6 years of age. A severe form of the disease occurs at a higher rate in Indigenous populations compared to the general population. ECC has been strongly associated with social determinants of health. Methods Focus groups and sharing circles were conducted with four First Nations and Metis communities in urban and rural communities in Manitoba. There were eight groups in total of purposively sampled participants (n = 59). A grounded theory approach guided thematic analysis of audio recorded and transcribed data. Results Indigenous participants experienced challenges similar to those found in the general population, such as encouraging and motivating parents and caregivers to establish regular oral hygiene routines for their children. However other challenges reported, disproportionately affect Indigenous communities. These include poor access to dental care, specifically no dental offices within 1 h driving radius and not having transportation to get there. Not having evidence-based oral health information to support good oral hygiene practices, preventing parents from making the best choices of oral hygiene products and oral health behaviours for their children. Poverty and food insecurity resulting in poor nutritional choices and leading to ECC. For example, feeding children sugary foods and beverages because those are more readily avialble than healthy options. Confusing or difficult encounters with dental professionals, highlighted as a factor that can erode trust, reduce compliance and impact continued attendance at dental offices. Conclusion Closing existing early childhood oral health gaps for First Nations and Metis peoples and communities requires equity-oriented healthcare approaches to address specific problems and challenges faced by these populations. Family, community and systemic level interventions that directly implement community recommendations are needed.