November 2021 Volume LVI Number 6

 
 
 
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Member News

November 2021 Volume LVI Number 6

School Visits
By Carrie Wucinich, R.D.H.
 
As dental professionals, one of the greatest gifts we can give is our time and knowledge to children living in under- served areas. Many of these children have never even seen what a dental pro- fessional looks like. Some of them don’t even own a toothbrush. Throughout my journey in this profession, I have come to learn about the struggles children face when it comes to their dental health.
 
These children need us more than we are aware. If we start educating them at a young age, we can set them up on a positive path that can last a lifetime. They will have the tools they need to prevent decay and severe pain. As it stands, there are approximately 48 million children under the age of 11 in the United States. If we come together to get out in our communities, we can watch smiles go up and rate of decay go down.
 
In the previous year, I have become an author and have been working with local Title One schools and Head Start programs. This work really changed my perspective on how important it is that we get involved in our local communi- ties. In February of 2021, I was invited by a Public Health Hygienist Crystal Spring, the co-founder of a nonprofit called Smiles Across Montana, to read my book to the children prior to their dental evaluation. Some of these children walked in very afraid. It was their first time visiting a dental professional, being in a dental chair, and seeing all our equipment. Prior to their exam, I sat with each child and read them my book, "Where the Sugar Bugs Live." We had tons of fun giggling about the bugs, and learned why it’s so important to look for those pesky sugar bugs! After we were done read- ing, almost all the children were relaxed through their exam, photos, X-rays, and cleaning. A little education and fun went a long way with these kids!
 
One thing Crystal taught me, which I vowed to teach every dental profes- sional from that day forward, is that we should never assume a child has their own toothbrush. The first question you should start with, no matter what their socioeconomic status, is "Do you have your own toothbrush?" This seems like it’s a given, but for many children, this is something they are embarrassed to ad- mit and won’t tell you unless you ask, as many children are sharing a toothbrush with their entire family. It was a hum- bling experience and that is why I feel strongly about going out into our com- munities and providing children with the knowledge to set them up for dental success. We can do this by providing them with the tools needed by explain- ing the importance of oral hygiene, diet, and educating them on how to properly use them for optimal oral health.
 
Here are the tips and tricks I have used throughout my visits in underserved areas, to set kids up for potential success. When working with kids, I have learned very quickly to give them the opportu- nity to be creative, provide visuals, and have fun! It is the easiest way to teach them the basics and make sure they retain the information.
 
Step One: Find a Title One school in your area. These schools are typically working with students in lower income areas and/ or are on a Free Reduced lunch schedule program. Many of the schools I have helped were actually referrals from my patients who are teachers. All it takes
is connecting with one teacher in your area, and they will get you in contact with someone who can assist you with contacts at the school district or specific schools.
 
Step Two: Call the school, introduce yourself as a local dentist/dental hygien- ist in the area and express interest of coming in to a kindergarten or lower-lev- el class to teach children the importance of dental health education. Typically,the administrators/teachers are beyond grateful for our help as some of these children don’t currently brush and des- perately need guidance. In some states, dental health is part of the required aca- demic standards that needs to be met.
 
Step Three: Schedule your time and date. Make sure to ask how many stu- dents are in the class. Keeping it to about 25-30 children per person is a good ratio. If class sizes are bigger, this is a great op- portunity to bring some staff to assist in the presentation.
 
Step Four: Grab a fun educational book, (like Where the Sugar Bugs Live,) your huge typodont, toothbrush and floss. If you are able, goody bags are always a hit with the kids, and can be a huge referral to your practice! This also ensures they will have their own toothbrush moving forward. Taking some fun coloring work- sheets and brushing calendars to the class can be beneficial. I have provided a free coloring pages and calendars in English and Spanish on my website. You can also take your presentation to a new level by discussing nutrition as it relates to their dental health.
 
In conjunction with reading a book, bring out a bag with a variety of fake fruit, a soda can, juice box, water bottle, a bag of skittles, a bag of jelly beans,gummy bears *. I pull a food item out of the bag and asked them "do the Sugar Bugs come out for this?" This is a great visual for them, also emphasizing the importance of healthy eating and drink- ing water.
 
Step Five: Sit back, read another fun book, sing a song, and share all the knowledge you have gained through- out the years. Let them see dental professionals are fun! The purpose is to increase their confidence and reduce their fears walking into a dental office.
 
On my last visit, some of the children had never been to a dentist, some had never seen floss, and some were learning how to brush for the first time.
 
Like I had mentioned earlier, as dental professionals/tooth heroes, we have the ability to change the path that many children are on for their dental health.
 
It doesn’t take much to get out into the community and find ways to help. The kids need our expertise and will be forever grateful for any help we can provide!
 
* REMEMBER TO AVOID ANY NUT PRODUCTS OR CANDY THAT CONTAINS NUTS
 

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