Tune in to Focus Carolina during morning, noon and evening drive times and on the weekends to hear stories from faculty members at UNC and find out what ignites their passion for their work. Focus Carolina is an exclusive program on 97.9 The Hill WCHL, sponsored by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

When she was young, Dr. Rocio Quinonez dreamed of working in a children’s hospital. Today, she’s a pediatric dentist at the UNC School of Dentistry where she oversees the Baby Oral Health Program, which ensures that dentists are ready to treat infants and toddlers.

“I really wanted to be a pediatric dentist at a children’s hospital,” Dr. Quinonez said. “I imagine to a career doing that and my dad even wrote me a poem about it when I graduated.”

The Prenatal Oral Health Program (pOHP) and the Baby Oral Health Program (bOHP) work to educate prenatal providers and dentists about the safety of caring for pregnant patients and how to care for young children.

The practice of treating children at a young age is a relatively new concept. According to Dr. Quinonez, about 40 percent of children will begin kindergarten with a history of cavities.

“bOHP aims to provide oral health professionals with the tools they need to deliver preventive oral health services to children that helps shift trajectories of health.”

Getting parents to bring their children to a dentist at a young age remains a challenge, but it often first begins through recommendations by pediatricians and family physicians.

In North Carolina, a program called Into the Mouth of Babes (IMB) works to trains medical providers to deliver preventive oral health services to young children.

“The evaluation of this program has been part of a national policy conversation and has helped promote Medicaid reimbursement for physicians to deliver these preventive oral health services in the medical home and refer a child to a dentist.

“Being engaged with the evaluation component of these programs has been one of my proudest accomplishments in my career.”

Listen to part one of the interview with Dr. Rocio Quinonez:

There is a tremendous gap in the oral care of pregnant patients, not only in North Carolina but nationwide and especially in low income areas. For many years, dentists were trained that they should not treat pregnant patients.

“The science really no longer supports this,” Dr. Quinonez said, “and pOHP aims to train generations of dentists that are comfortable and caring for pregnant patients as a prelude to caring for the child.”

The daughter of an educator and physician, Dr. Quinonez gets her inspiration from multiple sources.

“I have to say that my parents have been pivotal. My mom worked with children growing up and she helped me see a window into that world.

“I’m really inspired every day I walk into the front doors at the School of Dentistry by the interactions with the students, the families we care for and my colleagues and UNC is really an extraordinary place.”

Listen to part two of the interview with Dr. Rocio Quinonez: