Social Marketing Research: Early Childhood Caries

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Social Marketing Research:

Early Childhood Caries


To present information on results of the first two phases of a pediatric social marketing research project targeted at parents of infants, toddlers and preschool children.


  • Provide information on the methods and results of social marketing research

  • Identify three important target audiences for information on early childhood caries

  • Identify potential areas of influence to impact knowledge and behavioral changes in target population

  • Discuss the next steps for the implementation of the social marketing campaign

Partially funded by grants from the:

Health Resources and Services Administration

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Inc.

Arizona Department of Health Services

Office of Oral Health


The first phase of the social marketing campaign was to review the literature to determine availability of information on the oral health knowledge, beliefs and attitudes of parents of infants, toddlers and preschool children. Although some oral health research had been published, very little information related to parents of such young children was identified. Therefore, the need to conduct social marketing research was identified.

The first phase of the social marketing research involved focus groups of white and Hispanic WIC eligible mothers of children birth to three years of age. The results from this phase warranted further research to quantify the findings of the focus groups. In particular to determine whether the information gleaned from the participants in the focus group was reflective of the target population across Arizona.

Overall Goal:

To Reduce Tooth Decay in Children Ages Birth - 3 Years

Target Market: Overall there are three distinct markets:

  1. Consumers – Initial focus on those at highest risk for disease WIC eligible mother

  2. Pediatricians/Family Practice Physicians

  3. Dentists

Although it is critical that messages and materials are developed for all three markets, current funding for research is targeted toward consumer education. Activity to address the other audiences is also underway but from a systems and policy perspective.

Purpose of Research: To quantitatively measure the target audience’s perceived knowledge, beliefs and behaviors around oral health. The question set was derived from focus groups conducted in phase one and included:

  • Sources of oral health information

  • General awareness levels of benchmark oral health issues

  • Adult behaviors

  • Potentials for key learning and behavioral change


This project utilizes the outbound phone interview method of information gathering. Potential respondents were assembled into a database based on the previously established criteria of WIC eligible mothers of children ages birth to three years. The respondents were representative and proportionate to the 2000 census composite for the total Arizona population.


A.Sources of OH Information

  • The dentist office was the #1 place where people received information

  • General Dental Services” & “Child Dental Care” were the top two messages

  • Dentist office, WIC office and hospital are places that the information obtained was most useful

  • WIC office is the place that the info obtained was most believable

B. General Awareness Levels

  • Believe oral health is important…(On a 1 to 6 scale with 6 being very important, 81.3% say 6 and 14.8% say 5…0% say 1)

  • Believe baby teeth are important…(On a 1 to 6 scale with 6 being very important, 76.3% say 6 and 15.3% say 5…0% say 1)

  • 88.8% say they are informed or very informed about oral health

  • 67% say they know what bacterial transmission means and over 90% know and have acceptable answers

  • 25% say the child’s first dental visit should come before 1 ½ years of age

  • 30% say brushing should begin for the child between birth and 6 months of age

  • Only 52% of respondents identified what fluoride does

C. Adult Behaviors

  • 18.5% say they “pre-chew” …33% say several times a week

  • 23.8% say they clean a pacifier by licking it…32% say several times a week

  • 73.5% say they share eating utensils…23% say daily

Potentials for learning and behavioral change

GOOD NEWS!!! Respondents in this study seem to resonate with new information…


  • Of those who don’t know about bacterial transmission, over 42% found the definition to be “very believable”

  • 54.4% were “very likely” to change their behavior if they knew about bacterial transmission


  • Only 2% correctly identified xylitol

  • About a third say they’d buy gum with Xylitol in it


  • 78% have not seen white spots, 71% don’t know what they are

  • 98% say they’d look for white spots if they knew about them

  • 33% say (when told) they think white spots being the first sign if tooth decay is “very believable”


  • One third say they had a bad experience at the dentist as a child

  • 1/3 say it affects decision to take their child

  • 52% had not taken their child to a dentist – [Children were under age 3 years but the specific ages were unknown.]


  • Develop and test messages for target audience - DONE

  • Identify opportunities for funding to study and develop messages for other key audiences

  • Other ideas? Please contact us.

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