Community partnerships for prevention: Oral health programs can assist your neighborhood efforts

The World Health Organization estimates that 60% to 90% of schoolchildren have dental caries. The statistics in the United States are equally alarming.

Oral health programs can assist your neighborhood efforts

BY JOANN R. GURENLIAN, RDH, PhD

The World Health Organization estimates that 60% to 90% of schoolchildren have dental caries. The statistics in the United States are equally alarming. Caries causes pain, difficulty eating, hours lost at school, and a decreased quality of life. As preventive oral health specialists, dental hygienists have an opportunity to change this situation, and two organizations have partnered together to provide an aggressive response to eliminate children's preventable suffering from pediatric dental disease.

The International Federation of Dental Hygienists (IFDH), through the generous sponsorship of Procter & Gamble and Premier, has created the "Every Child Has a Toothbrush" program. This program is designed to teach children how to use a toothbrush effectively so they can better control biofilm and reduce the risk of tooth decay. The program will provide dental hygienists with small grants to help them conduct a community education intervention for children.

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Each program requires that the dental hygienist document numbers of children examined, findings of the clinical exam, type of tooth-brushing instruction provided, as well as the findings of a three-month follow-up in which the children will be reexamined and tooth-brushing techniques are reinforced. Referrals made for further dental care should be part of each community intervention. Dental hygienists may choose to add to the program by performing sealants and/or fluoride varnish, but emphasis must be on education. Modest grants up to $250 will be provided and toothbrushes will be furnished for the initial and follow-up interventions.

In addition, the IFDH has partnered with America's ToothFairy: National Children's Oral Health Foundation (NCOHF), a nonprofit organization designed to promote positive oral health behaviors among children and their families and increase public awareness about oral disease prevention. There are many programs offered by the NCOHF, but two in particular may be of interest.

The Smile Drive is a program offered in the United States and Canada that focuses on collecting oral care products for at-risk children in the community. This program takes place throughout February as part of National Children's Dental Health Month. To participate in this project, visit the NCOHF website and register as a Smile Drive site. Hold a toothbrush/toothpaste drive at your local pharmacy, Walmart Vision Center, school, or any location with an opportunity for community engagement. Identify a local nonprofit shelter, program, or organization serving children and teens in need and deliver the products to them on or before March 20th, World Oral Health Day. Complete a brief survey to let NCOHF know how many products were collected and where they were delivered.

The other program that may be of interest is the Esther Wilkins Education Program. This program, founded with a generous gift from Dr. Esther Wilkins, is meant to improve oral health literacy through outreach activities in local communities and mission trips around the world. The tool kit includes a magnetic display board, oversize toothbrush, and magnetic stickers that help children learn about healthy foods, biofilm, mouth safety, tobacco, infant care, and basic prevention strategies. Purchase of the kit ($50) requires a commitment to conduct a minimum of four community educational activities annually.

Sharing information about these programs now is a way for dental hygienists to start planning ahead for community interventions for the fall and spring. Dental hygienists and our local dental hygiene components are always looking for activities they can perform on a volunteer basis that are meaningful to the community. The above-mentioned activities are new projects that are designed to be manageable and productive. For example, you can incorporate the purchase of the Esther Wilkins Education Tool Kit into the grant application for Every Child Has a Toothbrush and combine the projects. Whatever you do, remember that children are vulnerable to a disease we can change through our skills as prevention specialists. If you are interested in learning more about these programs, visit www.ifdh.org and www.ncohf.org. RDH


JOANN R. GURENLIAN, RDH, PhD, is president of Gurenlian & Associates, and provides consulting services and continuing education programs to health-care providers. She is a professor and dental hygiene graduate program director at Idaho State University, and president of the International Federation of Dental Hygienists.

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