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Outreach Effort Aids Underserved Kids

Written by Adam Zewe

It's tough for kids to focus on school work when their teeth and gums are aching. In Cecil County, dental pain is the number one health-related complaint of elementary school children. Improving the oral health of kids who live in the rural county is the objective of a new School of Dentistry outreach project.

The project sends first-year dental and hygiene students to Title-1 elementary schools throughout Cecil County to provide screenings and oral health instruction for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes. The school visits are organized through The Judy Center, which offers early childhood education and health screenings for young kids, in partnership with Cecil County Public Schools. The partnership was initiated by Lisa Bress, RDH, MS, assistant professor at the Perryville clinic. Patti Zimmer, RDH, BS, Perryville clinic administrator and director of a community service class for first-year dental students, recognized the value of outreach activities for the students and recommended that such a program be developed.

Before heading to elementary schools, the students receive an oral health literacy briefing from Bress. "This helps the students understand the oral health crisis in Maryland and across the country. They also learn communication techniques that can be used during their elementary school classes and eventually during direct patient care," she says.

During the school visits, dental hygiene students collaborate with Dean's Faculty dentists to conduct basic oral health screenings. Keeley Page, RDH '13, was shocked by the amount of rampant decay she saw on some of the children's teeth. "This project allows us to stress and emphasize the importance of prevention, as well, so they can avoid future issues," she remarks.

After the screenings, the hygiene and dental students teach kid-friendly oral health literacy lessons. The energetic children enjoyed watching Jackie Chan, DDS '16, use a giant toothbrush and stuffed animal to demonstrate brushing in a circular motion. "We showed the kids that dentists aren't scary," he states. The dental and hygiene students also emphasize proper nutrition, and explain how certain foods could negatively impact dental health. "Hopefully, our visit will influence their dental habits. It may seem like a small thing, but this project could have a big impact in the community," remarks Tracy Kania, DDS '16.

As the program grows, it will make a bigger difference in Cecil County, but also in the lives of the dental and hygiene students who participate. "The students learn that dentistry is about more than clinical procedures. It's about opening your heart to all cultures and all types of communities," concludes Bress.

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