“Me, me, me next”, was all Dental Hygiene students Sara Gutierrez and Kylie Cade could hear when a classroom of pre-schoolers got to take turns wearing white pillowcase costumes to look like teeth, with one pink pillow cased student simulating a tongue, while another classmate practiced the skill of flossing between the ‘teeth’ with a length of cord. A large and colorful Styrofoam toothbrush rounded out the visual aids Sara and Kylie brought to fully engage their audience’s ever-ready imaginations.
Shouts of “I want to be the tongue next,” came mostly from the little girls “because of the pink pillowcase,” says Sara. Next came one-on-one brushing and flossing practice: one child to one toothy stuffed animal. If you want children to learn about good oral health and hygiene, you have to get them where they live; among their stuffed animal friends.
Sara and Kylie were at Muncy Elementary school as part of their Visalia campus Dental Hygiene’s Community Outreach project, which is part of their course curriculum.
“In their Community Oral Health class, students choose their own elementary school and go alone or in pairs to provide oral health education to young students,” says Brenda Serpa, DH Program Director. “In their previous Dental Health Education class they created an education piece that they take out into the community as a visual aid to their presentation.”
Dental hygiene education for young children is welcomed in the education community and appreciated for its far-reaching positive effects within families.
“Many kids don’t have a toothbrush at home, or they share with a brother or sister,” says Serpa. “That’s why we take those tools – gifts of toothbrushes, toothpaste, dental floss – with us to school presentations. Our DH students can teach children and demonstrate efficient brushing, while they are using their new toothbrushes on themselves.”
With two combined classes totaling 40-plus 4-year olds, Sara and Kylie had their hands full. While Sara led the stuffed animal demonstration, Kylie talked about the ‘sugar bugs’ that love to attack little teeth after sweet snacks.
The Dental Hygiene students used a “Happy Tooth” poster to show the effects of good brushing and nutritional habits and a “Sad Tooth” that demonstrated neglect and ‘sugar bug’ infestation.
A little Q & A session brought interesting confessions from their classroom of enthralled and eager children. “I brush my teeth a hundred times a day,” offered one little boy. “My brother has black teeth,” confessed a little girl. Maybe it was an attack of the ‘sugar bugs’ that got them going.
“I had an amazing time and love working with children,” says Sara. “You have to be a little more patient with them – like with the floss; if parents don’t introduce it to them, they don’t know what it is.”
When you multiply the number of students in every Dental Hygiene program by the number of young students in each class they visit – who then go home and share their new knowledge with sibling – a lot of lives are touched in very positive ways.
“When DH students first hear their coursework assignments and realize that they must go out into their community to do this outreach project, they think ‘Oh, that is so much to do,’” says Brenda Serpa. “But, at the end of the semester they talk about what they did, the reaction from the kids and how welcome they were in the classroom; they say they didn’t realize the experience would be so great.”
The impact these students make on the community can be measured in better health, fewer visits to the dentist and saved teeth. And, maybe more than a few happy smiles.
“We want to make sure that our students know what a difference we make in the community, that getting out there and touching the community in this way is more rewarding than they ever thought.” says Serpa.