February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, an opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of oral health care for our children. Teaching about brushing, flossing, and healthy eating in an encouraging way can show kids that these aren’t chores, but can actually be fun.
During the summer of 2018, I participated in the Southern Vermont Area Health Education Center’s Health Care Internship Program. I worked with an inspirational dental hygienist, Barbara Hodgkins, in a program that offered free dental cleanings to children in rural Vermont daycares. I’ve helped with cleanings, led dental training classes, demonstrated brushing on a stuffed dinosaur, and handed out goody bags.
I was discouraged by the number of children who did not enroll in this free program, as I found that these were often the children who needed the most care. I remember one child telling us, “My mom doesn’t remind me to brush my teeth, so I don’t really. Barb shook her hand and encouraged her, “Even if Mom doesn’t, I think you can remember that on your own.” That moment inspired me to pursue a career in dentistry.
In the fall of 2021, I worked in a pediatric dental office. Many children had traveled more than three hours for their appointment. Some missed a whole day of school or had already missed school because of toothache. The appointments lasted an hour and there were children with several cavities, so we could not complete the treatment during this period and they had to come back.
We can all help our children develop healthy dental habits. Encourage your dental professionals to give demonstrations on good oral hygiene at school. Help teachers incorporate the importance of dental care into the curriculum. Donate toothbrushes, toothpaste and dental floss to schools and community organizations that serve children and families. Volunteer yourself.
Last summer, I worked with the Southern Vermont Program to create dental health education videos for children in Vermont, covering topics such as proper brushing and flossing techniques, healthy eating, and caries formation. Our goal is to have these videos made available for use in all Vermont schools and dental practices.
I decided I wanted to be a dentist largely because of those early experiences with pediatric dentistry. The more I learn, the better equipped I will be to influence policies that increase the number of children with access to proper dental care. I am very grateful to my counselors at the Vermont Southern Region Health Education Center for their encouragement and guidance. With their support, I was accepted into dental school and will begin my training in August 2022.
This week’s Health Talk article was written by Eve Pomazi, a former intern in the Southern Vermont Area Health Education College (SVTAHEC) (C-SHIP) healthcare internship program.