During National Children’s Dental Health Month, about 40 Norton Park Elementary students relaxed in dental chairs wearing rock star-like protective glasses. Dental Hygiene volunteers carefully examined the students’ teeth and added sealants to protect the pearly whites from tooth decay.
Down the hall in the Norton Park gym, students rotated through stations to learn about the importance of oral health.
“We learned about how to keep our teeth healthy and not to eat a lot of junk food,” advised third grader Mekiah. “Always brush your teeth and floss. Brush your tongue and brush your teeth really good to make sure you get all the bacteria out.”
Dental Hygiene students from Georgia State University, with the help of staff from the Georgia Department of Public Health, put their training into action. The college students created the oral health training for the entire Norton Park student body and helped provide the dental preventative services to those in need.
“The first thing we did at Norton Park was to have a parent workshop to help them understand the benefits of oral health, preventive dental health, and the services that we are providing for free,” explained Pam Cushenan, assistant professor in Dental Hygiene at Georgia State University/ Perimeter College.
The dental volunteers screened the students in October and provided preventative services like dental sealants to 32 students on the Georgia State University campus in fall 2018. Based on their original assessment of the students, the dental volunteers were able to notify parents if their child needed immediate dental care and where to get corrective services.
“We really want to make sure that we prevent what we can, and yet, we connect [the students] with dental resources so they can get the decay out of there,” Cushenan continued. “A lot of people don’t realize that decay is a transmissible bacteria. They often have introduced from family members if they have any decay, and they can spread it to others well. So, we want to stop that vicious cycle.”
The Dental Hygiene team of volunteers are not done yet. They plan to return to Norton Park in three months to review the oral status of the 76 total children that they have already served.
Like the other Norton Park students, Mekiah not only walked away with the protective dental sealants, she also understands more about the importance of oral health, which she can share with others. Here’s more of what she learned:
“Do not smoke. It can make your teeth really bad. If you don’t brush your teeth, they will bleed and you could get a gum disease.”
The Dental Hygiene students learned a number of things, according to their professor: They were able to see public health in action, which reinforced what they had learned in the classroom. The event also helped them become better educators, which is a very important part of Dental Hygiene. The students also had to had to go through all the steps to set up a public health program from beginning to end.
In the end, the Dental Hygiene students helped the Norton Park students, but the elementary students also helped prepare the college students for a career of serving even more people in the future.
Norton Park students are the first in Cobb to benefit from the partnership with the Georgia State University students, but they may not be the last. After reviewing what they learned from their experience at Norton Park, Cushenan said they plan to look at other Title I schools to see how they can help their students too.