Children and caregivers don't always have access to quality dental care. Educators can help fill that gap.
Share the information you find here to give your students the best opportunity for a healthy mouth.
Oral Health Education for Children and Caregivers
We have taken our best oral health education training tools and assembled two different Training Tool Kits: one for use with children and one for caregivers. Download these materials and use them for teaching oral health and its importance to students and family.
Both programs includes slides, speakers note, and educational exercises to support teaching and learning best oral care habits.
If you would like someone from the Minnesota Oral Health Project to do a presentation, contact Cris Gilb, Executive Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Oral Health Education Changes Children's Lives
Educators can make a difference
Why were you drawn to become an educator? Is it because you enjoy children? Maybe you have a desire to help children and their families. Or possibly someone recognized your special gift for communicating with children and suggested teaching as a profession. We know oral health education is probably not on the list of reasons you chose to teach, but hear us out on why you should care.
Why oral health education?
For young children, learning about good oral hygiene and caring for their teeth can have an outsized impact on their lives and future. It is a lesson many kids, especially your at-risk students, may not have modeled in their home lives. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), children ages 5 to 19 years from low-income families are twice as likely (25%) to have cavities, compared with children from higher-income households (11%). And poor oral health has far-reaching individual, social, and financial implications for a child and their family. Let's discuss the price children pay for poor oral care and a lack of oral health education.
The costs of poor oral care
It's just cavities, right? But it's so much more than that and left untreated cavities can lead to serious medical consequences. A child with severe dental caries may have problems chewing, leading to poor nutrition. The pain they suffer can lead to significant sleep issues and if left untreated abscessed teeth can cause a serious infection.
Possibly one of the least discussed consequences of bad teeth is social isolation. Imagine being afraid to smile at someone or being reluctant to talk because your poor teeth make it hard to speak clearly. You appear sullen or angry - when you are simply afraid of people's reactions. It is unnecessary for a child's health or self-esteem to be damaged when simple steps can be taken to help them build healthy habits and a confident self-image.
Society also pays a price when young children suffer from dental caries. According to a North Carolina study, children with dental pain are three times more likely to miss school. A Los Angeles study found one third of elementary school absences among economically vulnerable children were due to dental problems. It is only common sense that if you're in pain you can't concentrate on what's being taught and you will not perform as well in school.
Indeed, it's not just oral pain that might keep you out of school. If you feel socially isolated from your peers because of an ugly smile or you're teased for the way you pronounce words, why go to school? A child with poor dentition struggles more to reach her full potential. And it's not only the child who suffers unintended consequences; if a caregiver is forced to miss work to look after a sick child, this can put their job and finances in a shaky position.
We all know Emergency Room visits are extremely expensive; however, a child who doesn't receive regular oral care can end up in the ER with severe pain and a dental infection. If a medical intervention becomes necessary it can be costly and risky. And, unfortunately, the emergency room physician can't treat the underlying dental issue, they can only treat the symptoms. A child under the age of five with a severe dental issue may need costly ambulatory surgery and anesthesia, raising the risk of complications and even death. If her family has public insurance or no insurance, a small issue that could have been resolved inexpensively with early intervention becomes a costly burden for the family and society.
What can Educators Do?
By now it should be apparent why oral health education is a topic that should be covered regularly by daycare, preschool, and early childhood educators. Your willingness to tackle this topic can have real world results that carry forward and make a meaningful difference in a child's life.
For young children it might be as simple as reading stories or books that feature engaging pictures and plots to help teach essential information about teeth and oral care. You can find many sources for these stories, including the library or googling them on the internet. The Minnesota Oral Health Project (MNOHP) has one storybook available that children enjoy greatly, Bye, Bye Germs.
Simple lessons, big impacts
Oral health education doesn't need to be complicated. In fact, the more straightforward the lesson, the easier it is for a child to grasp the idea being presented.
Many children enjoy activity sheets. Using these sorts of worksheets to tie in with a verbal lesson can reinforce topics you cover. You also can hand out worksheets as rewards for good behavior - children like them and learn information without realizing it. Feel free to get started with these activity sheets offered through MNOHP, but plenty of others can be found online.
Hands-on experiments allow children to play while they learn and can really cement a lesson in a child's mind. One simple experiment that demonstrates the importance of making good beverage choices involves hard boiled eggs and a brown soda, such as root beer or cola. Rather than explain the fun, read about it here and you will quickly see why children enjoy the tactile nature of this learning.
Craft projects, such as making posters, are a favorite standby for reinforcing a concept with children. February is National Children's Dental Health Month and would be a perfect time to ask children to design a poster that encourages brushing or flossing teeth, or any other dental idea you would like to stress. But why wait till February? This type of art project is enjoyable anytime.
Outside your individual classroom, schools can play a broader part in addressing their students' oral health. The CDC has long recognized the importance of fluoride in reducing cavities; in fact, studies have shown that applying a fluoride varnish is safe and effective in preventing tooth decay in young children. Many schools have a program via their school nurse where eligible children can have fluoride varnish applied to their teeth. If you school has such a program, encourage eligible families to participate. If your school doesn't contact Cris Gilb, Executive Director of MNOHP (email@example.com) to learn how to get a program established.
Oral health education changes lives
As educators we know you don't need to be told how to do your jobs. You're already very good at them. And although we know you may be happy for additional ideas, we recognize how creative you are. After reading this article, we hope you understand the importance of good oral health education and value the difference it can make in your students' quality of life; now, use that creativity to find ways to make good oral health an enjoyable part of your class curriculum.
These educational worksheets are set up for printing on a home printer. Let us know if you have problems with printing any of these.