By Karen P. Buckenheimer, RN, BSN, Executive Director
Students are back in school! Well, hopefully. Faced with the ever-growing concerns of COVID-19, oral health may be the last thing on anyone’s mind. But tooth decay is the most common disease of childhood, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. In fact, prior to the pandemic, tooth pain was the No. 1 reason children missed school.
For 30 years, I’ve had the honor to work for an amazing nonprofit, MORE HEALTH. Located in Tampa, we teach health and safety education lessons to students in grades K-12 throughout the Tampa Bay region. The first lesson we taught in 1989 was a dental health lesson for second grade students. Today, we offer 25 interactive lessons focused on providing valuable information to help kids and families stay safe and make healthy choices.
Teaching oral health is fun, rewarding, and sometimes surprising. Using an interactive kinesthetic style of teaching, we teach students how to brush their teeth, the importance of eating healthy foods and drinks, and encourage them to visit the dentist twice a year. Due to the pandemic, we transformed our in-person, hands-on lessons to high-energy virtual lessons. We now offer virtual oral health lessons throughout Florida and beyond.
Just last month, MORE HEALTH taught oral health to more than 1,100 adults and children attending the FDA Foundation’s Florida Mission of Mercy. Many of the patients did not know the basics. They asked questions such as how to brush their teeth, how cavities are formed and how often. Many were shocked to see the amount of sugar in a can of soda or sports drink. One even asked if they could use laundry bleach to whiten their teeth!
The dental visit is one of the most important teaching opportunities. Dentists are in a prime position to not only provide care to patients, but also reinforce the importance of oral health. Taking just a few minutes to talk with your patients about their hygiene habits can really make a difference. Most people are visual learners, so use a mouth model and toothbrush to show proper brushing. Another idea is to fill a jar with 10 teaspoons of sugar and hold next to a can of soda when you talk about drinking non-sugared drinks. Emphasize eating fruits and veggies and drinking fluoridated water. We use catchy phrases such as “just a dot, not a lot” when talking about fluoride toothpaste or remember the “2 + 2+ 2 rule” (brush two times a day, for two minutes and see your dentist twice a year). The few minutes you spend teaching your patients will definitely help them to be more compliant and have better oral health.
Even though this is basic information that you may feel everyone knows, hearing from the dental expert — you — means so much more. Teaching doesn’t stop in the office setting. Use every opportunity you can to reinforce the importance of oral health as it relates to overall health. Embrace teaching moments wherever you are — on the soccer field, on the golf course, at church or at the grocery store! Volunteer at the Great American Teach-in and visit your local schools and Boys and Girls Clubs. Enjoy getting involved in your community and take advantage of those teaching moments. Your expertise and advice will be appreciated and accepted. The kindness demonstrated that you truly care will help make you an integral and respected member in your community. It’s worth the effort.
MORE HEALTH, Inc., a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization, trains instructors to deliver interactive, exciting health education lessons to students, at no charge to school districts, through funding from local businesses, foundations, and state and federal grants. For more information, visit morehealthinc.org or call 813.287.5032.