Flashing a big smile of his own at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry’s latest “Give the Kids a Smile” day, Vineet Dhar, BDS, MDS, PhD, associate professor, said the dentistry can sometimes seem to be a small part of educating pediatric dental students.
The Smile day at the School’s National Dental Museum in Baltimore was for 70 first-grade schoolchildren from nearby James McHenry Elementary School. They were greeted and hosted by 20 of the School of Dentistry’s pediatric dentistry students, eager to practice that other part of their curriculum, childhood psychology.
Half of the dental students sat or knelt with groups of first-graders in front of colorful, simple exhibits about brushing, tooth anatomy, saliva, and dozens of other oral health subjects.
The other half of the pediatric students, wearing masks and rubber gloves, sat across from the children, one at a time, for an oral examination and lots of healthy “tooth talk.”
“The first thing they [the pediatric classes] teach us is that you have to get down to their level, look the kids in the eye,” said Natalie Masiuk, third-year pediatric dental student. Masiuk in her powder blue scrubs was surrounded by seven children at a floor-level tobacco exhibit. “Do you know what tobacco is? Lots of people don’t know that tobacco is bad for your teeth,” Masiuk said as she pointed to a large poster of stained teeth. “This is what your teeth will look like if you smoke,” she said, evoking a round of “eews” and “yuks.”
The American Dental Association (ADA) began the Give Kids a Smile program in 2003 as a way for ADA members to join with others in the community to provide dental services to underserved children. Each year, approximately 450,000 children benefit from more than 1,500 events. Each year, the UM School of Dentistry invites nearby elementary school children with their teachers and some parents to a Smile day.
Dhar watched as his students examined the children. “This introduces the students to community service and introduces the kids to good hygienic practices.” He said it was all about providing impressions and retaining, but not of the dental kind. “Helping the kids develop appropriate behavior and attitude about the dentist makes an impression in their minds at this age that they can retain with reinforcing by the teachers here and parents,” said Dhar.
Meanwhile, another group of five children were gathered around third-year pediatric dentistry student Jennifer Drosser, kneeling at the brush and floss exhibit. Primed by her training to expect to hear anything from children, Drosser began, “Does anyone here floss?” “Yea, it made my tooth go out,” a child said, in all seriousness. “Well, it must have been a baby tooth,” Drosser responded, quickly turning to the Tootharama exhibit on tooth anatomy. She talked the children through the exhibit on the development of human teeth from birth to 35 years old.
The children drifted off to the next exhibit, prompting Drosser to say, “We are taught how to talk with them. Sugar bugs are the bacteria that decay teeth. Our mask is an umbrella. We start with terms they understand. And, we have to keep in mind a lot of the issue is that kids are afraid of pain.”
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