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Fun for all! Underserved children learn oral health with pizzazz

Aug. 12, 2021
This pediatric team tasked with getting oral health education to underserved children during the pandemic had to come up with some new ways to do it. Their video efforts were a big success.

Author’s note: We still don’t know who had more fun, our team or the children we served. The pediatric dental team of Stony Brook School of Dental Medicine used a lot of creativity to get oral health information to children in need during the pandemic. Because we couldn’t visit in person, we learned some new ways to get our presentation into the classrooms of Long Island. We had a blast doing it, and the project was a big success! Here’s what we did.

It’s well-known that school-based oral health programs can improve skills-based health education by helping students, teachers, and parents understand factors that influence health, thus enabling them to make healthy choices and adopt healthy behaviors throughout their lives.1

This idea reflects the mission of the school-based oral health education program at Stony Brook School of Dental Medicine. We strive to give children the knowledge to make good decisions for their oral and overall health. It was extremely important for our outreach team to overcome the challenge presented by the pandemic: we couldn’t present our programs in person. This article discusses our challenge and the solutions we came up with to deliver our elementary oral health education presentation during the pandemic.

The pediatric dental residents and the outreach team of Stony Brook School of Dental Medicine annually visit participating elementary school districts across Long Island as part of a New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) School-Based Sealant Program Grant. NYSDOH awarded this grant to Stony Brook School of Dental Medicine to help underserved elementary school children receive preventive dental care, including exams, prophy, fluoride treatments, sealants, and oral health education.

Since we were not permitted to visit the schools with our mobile van or present the oral health education component of our program in person, we created and launched our first virtual oral health presentation for first, second, and third grade children.

Since I have many years of experience in presenting to children, I composed the child-friendly script. Included were topics such as the importance of regular visits to the dentist, brushing, flossing, fluoride toothpaste, rinse, sealants, and mouthguards. I wanted to make the presentation colorful, fun, captivating, and educational. The team who came together included pediatric dentists with upbeat personalities, so that helped. Then I included fascinating visuals and fun background music. Since children love videos, I inserted child-friendly, colorful, and attention-grabbing oral health clips to get our points across. Filming took about a week, and we had a blast through the entire creative process. It was a treat to see the pediatric dental residents bring the script to life.

I admit there was a degree of computer skills required to make this presentation come to life. Once I learned how to use the platform Prezi, the rest was pretty easy. Fortunately, Dr. Sara Girgis, one of the pediatric dental residents, had experience with iMovie. She downloaded the presentation from Prezi and uploaded it into iMovie, and then uploaded it to YouTube and created our link. We’d love for you to click here now to enjoy our video.  

Next, we emailed each elementary school administrator the link to our presentation. We instructed school administrators to do their best to distribute the oral health kits on the same day the children watched the video presentation. Our goal was to have the children take the kits home and talk with their parents about what they learned.

Since many underserved children go without proper dental supplies, the pediatric dental residents and the pediatric dental club at Stony Brook volunteered their time and assembled more than 7,000 oral health kits. Each kit included a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, and a letter to parents telling them about the preventive care we offer at our clinic. This took several months, and we delivered the oral health kits to all 23 elementary schools in the area, consisting of about 7,000 children.

How did we do?

For quality assurance purposes, we sent a survey to teachers asking for their feedback. Also, for their convenience, we embedded a scannable QR code linked to our survey at the end of the presentation. We sent an email to each school administrator with a direct link to the survey to further encourage feedback.

We asked if they felt the topics presented were important to maintaining oral health, if the children understood the information, if the presentation was a good length, if it was appropriate for children in first through third grades, if it was comparable to an in-person presentation, and how they would rate the presentation. We received no less than 4.7 stars, and their overall rating of our presentation was 4.9 stars! Fifty-one teachers offered feedback.

The pediatric dental outreach team overcame the challenges the pandemic brought forth and succeeded in presenting oral health education to 23 elementary schools in an innovative and safe manner that is comparable to an in-person presentation. We felt a strong responsibility to keep our commitment to the schools and children with the creation of this project. Dr. Rhona Sherwin, the program director, gave us the freedom and guidance to use our knowledge and ingenuity to produce the presentation. Ultimately, teachers, students, and our group appreciated the importance of delivering oral health education in this fun and novel way.

Auspiciously, COVID-19 brought forth a silver lining. We learned that we can often attain solutions to difficult situations with creative thinking, commitment, perseverance, and determination. The journey to create and distribute our presentation and deliver important oral health supplies to underserved children was a rewarding and memorable accomplishment of Stony Brook School of Dental Medicine’s outreach team.

Reference

1. Gargano L, Mason MK, Northridge ME. Advancing Oral Health Equity Through School-Based Oral Health Programs: An Ecological Model and Review. Frontiers. November 26, 2019. www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpubh.2019.00359/full#B17

Christine Marsh, BA, RDH, is a graduate of St. John’s University and Farmingdale State College and has been practicing dental hygiene since 1992. Upon completion of her dental hygiene program, Christine had received the Philip Silverstein Award for Academic Excellence and was inducted into Sigma Phi Alpha National Dental Hygiene Honor Society. In 2008, she joined Stony Brook University School of Dental Medicine, becoming an integral part of the outreach team. She enjoys working on the frontline and finds fulfillment in assisting the underserved population on Long Island by addressing the oral health needs of high-risk children. She has been a member of the ADHA since 1992.