Guide Offers Advice for Community-Minded Dentists

Dentistry Today


Dental professionals who want to improve the oral health of their communities but don’t know how to get started can take advantage of resources from the National Children’s Oral Health Foundation: America’s ToothFairy. Its 2017-2018 Oral Health Education Program Project Guide offers ideas that often build upon each other, ranging from the simple to the complex, with little to no costs.

The guide is built upon the public health model with the understanding that people are influenced by the systems and supports around them when it comes to making healthy decisions and choices. Projects are based on 3 categories—changing beliefs, changing behaviors, and changing the environment—with the goal of making it easier for dental professionals to help communities that already struggle with maintaining oral health. 

“It’s a problem that we know how to solve. There’s a solution out there. It’s just a matter of engaging the dental community, and they’ve been so wonderful and supportive, and building upon that as well as promoting oral health to educate the public about its importance. Oral health often has been overlooked, and it’s so critical to one’s overall health,” said Jill Malmgren, executive director. “So there’s a great opportunity to really impact lives.” 

For example, the guide suggests that oral health beliefs can be changed via social media, posters and flyers, demonstrations, and “health clubs” at schools and community centers. Dental professionals also can document local issues, such as whether the community has fluoridated water, the number of available dental health professionals, and school nutrition data, using that information to build awareness or oral health needs in the community.

To change behaviors, oral health advocates could establish tooth-brushing programs in their local elementary schools so children can learn and practice effective oral hygiene habits. Backpack stuffing programs can provide students with toothbrushes and toothpaste to continue those practices, along with tooth-friendly foods. Meanwhile, bullying prevention programs can help those children who are teased for their poor dental health. 

By changing the environment, the guide explains, people in the community can more easily exercise habits and choices that improve their oral health. For example, advocates can address water fluoridation where it is missing or under threat. Sugar-sweetened beverages can be removed from school cafeterias and vending machines. And by establishing and replenishing hygiene closets at school, students in need can always have access to oral healthcare products.

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