Protocol for a family-centered behavioral intervention to reduce early childhood caries: the MySmileBuddy program efficacy trial

Lumsden, Christie L.; Edelstein, Burton L.; Basch, Charles E.; Wolf, Randi L.; Koch, Pamela Ann; McKeague, Ian; Leu, Cheng-Shiun; Andrews, Howard

Although largely preventable through diet management and topical fluoride use, early childhood caries (ECC) often progresses to severity that necessitates surgical repair. Yet repair often fails to mitigate caries progression. Needed is an effective behavioral intervention to address underlying behavioral causes.

This randomized controlled trial will evaluate the efficacy of a behaviorally focused, family-centered intervention, the MySmileBuddy Program (MSB Program), to reduce ECC progression in high-risk preschoolers in New York City. Recruitment will target 858 children ages 24–71 months with ECC and their parents from primary care medical and dental clinics. The study aims to assess the MSB Program’s efficacy to: (1) decrease ECC progression measured 12-months post-randomization; and (2) enhance adoption of a low cariogenic diet and twice-daily fluoridated toothpaste use compared to control group. Potential causal pathways (mediators and moderators) will be explored. The MSB Program equips community health workers (CHWs) with an app that facilitates multilevel risk assessment and provides motivational interviewing-based counseling to inform parents about the caries process, develop personalized goals, and create family-level action plans to achieve targeted behaviors. Social support from CHWs (4 interactions during the 6-month intervention, supplemented by up to 4 in-person/remote contacts throughout the 12-month study period, based on need) is bolstered by automated text messages. Participants will be randomized to a Control Group (paper-based educational handout plus toothbrushes and fluoridated toothpaste for the child) or Intervention Group (MSB Program, two tooth-brushing observations with feedback and instruction, and toothbrushes and toothpaste for the entire family). All children will receive visual ICDAS dental examinations and parents will complete study measures at baseline and 12-months. An incentive up to $150 plus round-trip transit cards ($5.50 value) will be provided.

This study hypothesizes that the MSB Program can reduce ECC progression in a high-risk population. Sufficient incentives and a focus on establishing rapport between participants and CHWs are anticipated to mitigate recruitment and retention challenges. If successful, this study will advance the long-term goal of reducing pediatric oral health disparities by demonstrating the efficacy of an acceptable and feasible intervention that shifts attention from dental repair to behavioral risk mitigation.

Trial registration: Trial registration was completed on 4/13/2021 through the U.S. National Library of Medicine website (Identifier: NCT04845594).


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Also Published In

BMC Oral Health

More About This Work

Academic Units
Health and Behavior Studies
Published Here
December 20, 2022


Dental Caries/diet therapy, Dental Caries/prevention and control, Toothpastes/therapeutic use, Community health workers, Randomized controlled trial