Pamella Vodicka was used to working in the trenches, having notched years of experience as a pediatric clinical dietitian working with chronically ill children and anxious parents. And as an officer with the U.S. Public Health Service, she joined humanitarian missions to the Dominican Republic and Trinidad.
So it was, at first, a bit of culture shock for Vodicka when, in 2003, she accepted a position that did not involve face-to-face care, but program development and grant administration with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Yet Vodicka adapted quickly and is proud of the value her position brings to public health. "Now I give the opportunity for others to deliver hands-on care," she says.
Today, Vodicka runs a project on oral health in school-based health centers—a topic about which she is passionate. She recently directed a grant program that sought best practices to integrate oral health into general pediatric care by educating not only health professionals but also new parents. "We don't send [the parents] home from the hospital with a manual for newborns," says Vodicka, who believes the correlation between oral checkups and a baby's health aren't as well-defined for new parents as other aspects of pediatric wellness. In fact, in 2011, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention named tooth decay the most chronic infectious disease among children. As Vodicka points out, tooth decay is preventable, emphasizing the importance of a dental visit before the child's first birthday.
While she no longer offers nutrition counseling, Vodicka remains focused on the overall care of children. "After a baby is born, between routine checkups and likely because of colds and stuffy noses, they see the doctor a lot," she says. Through these programs, health providers, including registered dietitians and parents alike, recognize early oral health care as a component of the child's primary care. "We are not there yet … but we are making progress!"