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Sharing a smile

April 1, 2012
Celebrating National Children’s Dental Health Month in February or National Dental Hygiene Month in October are both wonderful opportunities ...

Strategies for reaching out to the community

By Judith M. Stein, RDH

Celebrating National Children’s Dental Health Month in February or National Dental Hygiene Month in October are both wonderful opportunities to bring dental education and enthusiasm to the broader community. There are several exciting, enjoyable, and effective marketing strategies spun from these potential outreach efforts as well. Comparing your efforts to the sustainability model of People, Planet, and Profit will spell out a win-win for your dental practice too. When you reach out to share your gifts and talents with others, the community becomes a more sustainable place in which to live, work, and play. Igniting creative passions today, along with some forward planning, has the potential to explode a wealth of dental knowledge and excitement into your community and dental practice.

As dental professionals who strive to remain focused and committed to providing dental health education all year, how do we make one month or even one day shine a little brighter than others? How can we take our knowledge and enthusiasm to the streets of our neighborhoods, our schools, our nursing care facilities? I’m not talking about dressing up as the tooth fairy at your local shopping mall, although I did that many years ago. Today, I’m proposing some really fun and effective ways to reach out to your community. Stay with me; this will be a blast.

Begin by connecting with other team members who are interested in helping develop and execute some fun dental outreach opportunities. Taking time to include your coworkers will foster a more collaborative atmosphere in your work environment. Use this empowering synergy to determine if you want to host educational opportunities on-site or take your show on the road. Some dental offices are very conducive to tours and seminars being held on-site. Other facilities just don’t have the layout for this to happen. With either choice, you will need to advertise or personally contact targeted groups several months in advance. You will also want to block off time in your schedule to accommodate either scenario. Making these plans well in advance will help prevent last-minute challenges, frustrations, or disappointments.

If you have chosen to give on-site tours, get ready for lots of fun and foot traffic in your dental office. Keep in mind that when a young child has the opportunity to tour a dental office, it can help create a positive memory to connect future dental visits. It’s also a perfect time to welcome new patients and their family members into your practice. Whether there is personal contact made at this visit or goodie bags filled with your dental practice literature sent home, an on-site dental tour is a fantastic avenue for office marketing.

I highly recommend you have a designated operatory available for the children to walk in and out of during their on-site dental tour. Allow them to take turns with chair rides while listening to typical dental noises. Keep the visual and audio experiences comfortable and age appropriate. It is also helpful to have a designated space where the tour ends. Having a more private area would allow you to show an educational video, conduct a fun puppet show, and even share a healthy snack with the children at the conclusion of the tour. Keeping your topics and timing appropriate to the age group you are working with is critical. And last — always finish by having fun!

I personally experience the most enjoyment when I visit preschool-aged children on their own school turf. Although I have dressed up as the tooth fairy in the past, I now find condensing my roadshow into a backpack more effective and fun for me. This has allowed me to really tap into my imagination and the children’s too.

I begin by inviting the children and their caregivers to make believe that I have just woken up and have an exciting day planned. I pretend I’m going to school and then to the dentist for the first time. Inside my backpack are different items that go along with my adventure. Of course I will need a healthy breakfast to begin my day. To emphasize this, I bring with me empty containers of waffles, egg cartons, empty milk bottles, fruit, and something to stump them with such as a donut container. We review each item I pull out of my backpack as to whether it is a healthy choice. This type of activity really becomes interactive and very adaptable to any style program you want to put on. I’ve even brought with me a separate backpack that contains masks, vinyl gloves, safety glasses, and a lab coat. Of course, I have an oversized typodont to practice brushing with too. Your backpack can be as full of items as your imagination can create.

Volunteering with elementary, middle school, or even high school students is also very rewarding. Depending on the age you are targeting, you can create a Jeopardy game of dental facts on a trifold board. This activity will engage a wide variety of learning styles. It is a great visual, audio, and interactive way to connect with and educate older children. Choose different game categories such as Plaque Attackers, Smart Snacks, and Dental Friends to quiz the students’ dental knowledge while having lots of fun playing the game of Dental Jeopardy. If you have a large group of students, you may want to divide them into teams while you read off the questions and keep score. You may choose to recognize the winning team while still awarding everyone with a gift bag of home-care items. This game board can be used over and over again if you permanently attach only the number values and not the questions. This will allow you to modify and adapt questions to the specific age group you are working with. It is important that you leave enough time after each question is answered for expanded discussion. I guarantee you this learning method will produce a standing ovation.

There are numerous opportunities for you to attend career fairs in your community or at local high schools. Usually, all it takes to make this happen is to contact the event organizer to volunteer your time and ideas. For me, I’ve always worked dental care into my presentation as well as the profession of which I am a part. Trifold boards can be great visual tools, depending on the space you are allotted and the needs you are asked to address. Again, have fun with any opportunity you are involved in to highlight our amazing health-care field.

I challenge you to consider broadening your focal group to include a beautiful, yet sometimes forgotten, segment of our society. Why not connect with a geriatric care facility in your community to share personalized dental attention and encouragement? Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Gregg Folse, Outreach Dentistry, Lafayette, La., I was enlightened as to the critical needs of this group. After attending a conference on geriatric care given by Dr. Folse, I felt compelled to contact a local nursing care facility. This connection brought forth the amazing opportunity to conduct an informative and energizing in-service program for the care staff. By empowering and educating staff members, I hoped to produce a trickle-down effect that would result in all residents receiving more thorough and consistent daily care.

Consider beginning the presentation by thankfully acknowledging the care staff for the services they provide each resident. This may produce a more welcoming and collaborative atmosphere to allow you to establish a trusting relationship with care staff. You might consider including simple treats for the staff members and take-home gift bags filled with office literature and home-care items. As you begin to share oral care suggestions with staff members, be careful not to insult anyone during this time of review and coaching. Make sure your body language communicates acceptance, not judgment.

After reviewing and demonstrating basic oral care for staff members, you can then turn your attention to resident care. Having established a more personal relationship with care staff, your ability to communicate openly should flow smoothly. Listen attentively to the concerns and challenges staff may be dealing with while providing residents the care they deserve. Consider bringing individual toothbrushes for staff members to demonstrate on one another while addressing their questions or concerns. This could foster a very interactive and productive discussion, not to mention wonderful laughter.

After focusing on the needs of staff members, you can begin to address the oral care and concerns of residents. Following are several points of interests I gleaned from Dr. Folse’s presentation to review and highlight with staff members:

Who needs oral care?
Every resident!

How often?
Every morning and every evening shift. Two times a day.

What happens if residents don’t receive daily care?
Mouth stays dirty.
Residents will have bad breath.
Residents may suffer from tooth decay.
Residents may develop gum disease.
Infections may occur.
Dentures smell.
Residents can be rejected. No hugs and kisses from friends and family.

When residents refuse oral care?
Inform the nurse, the social worker, document, and try again! Be creative with your approach to oral care. Even walking out of the room and returning minutes later to try again can produce a different experience with a challenging resident. Partner with other staff members to brainstorm different methods of oral care.

Do a “smile check” when you see any resident.
Look for:
Odor, pain, facial redness, swelling of jaws or gums, change in eating habits, loose or lost dentures.
Report and document any concerns!

Take time to review denture care with staff members.
Include and highlight the following:
How to safely brush dentures to prevent damage:
Brush all surfaces of the denture.
Brush underneath the denture.
When cleaning denture, hold it near the bottom of the sink.
Use antimicrobial soap or toothpaste.
Rinse the denture well.
Offer to rinse the patient’s mouth before returning denture to resident.

Flossing challenges
Flossing presents many challenges in the nursing care setting. Please check with the care facility for their recommendations and guidelines. When residents can floss, care staff can support this action with ease. Some family members will even bring in extra oral care supplies that care facilities cannot provide, such as dental flossers. Flossers are especially helpful for residents with dexterity challenges.

Electronic toothbrushes
Review electric and/or battery toothbrushes with care staff so they are able to assist residents who have this style toothbrush. Bringing one in to demonstrate with care staff is also very helpful. Some cognitively impaired (CI) residents don’t do well with some electric brushes as the noise and vibration cause fear. Evaluate CI residents individually to ensure they can and will tolerate these devices.

I would love to hear from you and of programs you have participated in. I believe collective knowledge finds its way full circle in our lives. As you share your enthusiasm and dental expertise with others, multiple blessings will find their way back into your dental practice all year long. It may be in the smile you shared with a nursing home resident or the hug you received from a preschooler or an increase in new patients to your office. Guaranteed, the fruits of your labors will produce new faces in your practice, wonderful health benefits to your community, and countless chances to share your smile. RDH

Judith M. Stein, RDH, is a 1981 graduate of Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Mich. Judy has enjoyed a variety of professional opportunities in her hygiene career, is committed to lifelong learning, and is now employed in private practice. The author is an active volunteer in several professional, community, and faith organizations. She can be reached at [email protected].

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