Date of Conferral





Public Health


Joseph F. Robare


Dental decay is a preventable disease, but it remains the most unmet healthcare need of American children. Untreated dental decay has adverse and long-lasting effects on a child's quality of life. Healthy oral habits among preschool children are essential for a healthy permanent dentition and are achieved primarily by 3 oral health related behaviors: proper dental hygiene, a healthy noncariogenic diet, and regular dental visits. This quantitative study, based on the theory of planned behavior, explored the relationship between these 3 oral health behaviors and 4 determinants: attitude, subjective norms, perceived behavioral control, and intention, using a 71-item questionnaire. The study utilized convenience sampling. A total of 436 parents or caregivers of children enrolled in the North East Independent School District Early Childhood Education program participated in this study; 81.5% were low-income, and 66% reported Hispanic identity. The relationship between variables was evaluated using multiple regression analysis. This study indicated that attitude alone toward a healthy diet and dental hygiene was not a significant predictor of behavior, but the attitude toward dental attendance was significant. Subjective norm, perceived behavior control, and intentions individually and combined were significant predictors of all 3 behaviors, except for subjective norm towards hygiene. Meaningful social change can be achieved by identifying and understanding the underlying motives that evoke planned and deliberate oral health behaviors among parents of preschool children. Targeted messages and cost-effective early interventions can be developed to prevent the onset of dental disease and improve the quality of life for low-income children.