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Going to Where the People Are

Kathy Lituri, RDH, MPH, began her dental hygiene career in a pediatric office and has spent much of her professional life reaching out to children and their families who struggle to access dental care.

Kathy Lituri, RDH, MPH

Kathy Lituri, RDH, MPH, has spent much of her career working toward improving the oral health of children. A clinical assistant professor and director of oral health promotion in the Office of Global and Population Health at Boston University (BU) Goldman School of Dental Medicine, her extensive experience in public health has led to her committed involvement in service learning and community-based oral health education and promotion activities, such as the Healthy Baby/Healthy Child Program.

Passionate about community water fluoridation, Lituri participated in a successful pro-fluoridation campaign in Lincoln, Massachusetts, in the spring of 2013. Since then, she has provided expertise to other communities facing challenges to their water fluoridation programs.

The leader of many outreach programs, Lituri has a longstanding relationship with ABCD and local Head Start programs to ensure that children have access to the dental care they need. She was kind enough to share her experiences with Sunstar Ebrief.


  • What are the most significant barriers children face accessing dental care in your experience working in Head Start programs?


Children, especially infants, toddlers, and preschoolers (Early Head Start and Head Start) rely on their parents and caregivers for everything. If the adults in the room recognize the importance of oral health and have a firm grasp on how to keep their mouths and their children’s mouths heathy, a lot of dental disease could be prevented. Like most things, this is easier said than done.

In addition, parents and caregivers have their own barriers to dental health.  I commend Head Start for their performance standards around oral health, including a dental exam/home on file within 90 days of starting, follow-up as needed, toothbrushing during the day with fluoride toothpaste, regularly timed healthy meals and snacks, and, as needed, dental servicers on-site.


  • When you decided to take the position at BU, you insisted that your work with the Head Start programs continue. What was behind this request?


Prior to joining BU in 1999, I worked at Children’s Hospital and got to know about ABCD and Head Start during those years. Seeing first-hand how tooth decay can affect a young child’s growth and development, how preventable caries can be, and how dental outreach (ie, going to where the people are actually works), I knew I had to continue this effort in my new role. Effectively reaching infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, as well as parents, guardians, and caregivers, in my humble opinion, is key to better oral health.


  • Describe your path to becoming a dental hygienist.


I did not know what a dental hygienist was until I was in high school. Our family dentist passed away, and we went to a new office. I ended up getting a part-time job as an on-the-job trained dental assistant and got to know more about the role of the dental hygienist. At the same time, the late 60s/early 70s, many allied health careers were becoming popular, a refreshing enhancement from the typical career of nurse or teacher presented to many teenage girls at the time. Several of my friends and I enrolled in a local community college and became dental hygienists, X-ray technicians, and such. My first job, which I took against the advice of my professors (they said I would forget how to scale), was in a pediatric dental office. I loved working with children and it laid the foundation for the rest of my career. I eventually earned a Master of Science in Public Health (while raising two small kids) and was fortunate to be able to dedicate my career to dental outreach and going to where the people are.

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