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Features / December 11, 2014

Teaching kids about oral health – how hard can it be?

by Guy Hiscott

Kellie O’Shaughnessy talks to Irish Dentistry about getting parents involved in a new oral health initiative for kids

What exactly is the Dental Den?
The Dental Den is a programme based on the needs of children and their families, which delivers prevention advice using non-clinical and practical methods. We run objectives like team practice policies and educate families on plaque control and sugars in the diet.

I decided to set up the programme because I felt the private practice I was working in was seeing high levels of childhood caries, and patients of mine (parents) were constantly looking for advice.

How easy is it to get parents involved in the initiative?
Interestingly, this is the part that I have worried about the most, but parents have expressed a huge amount of interest in prevention, especially when they know it may save time, money and trauma in the future. With this in mind, I recently ran a survey with some primary schools and the results were amazing – 87% of parents believe oral health to be important in the family.

Luckily for us, 93% of parents said they would like access to easy-to-use visual resources to encourage their children to look after their teeth, which we took into account.

How many people, practices and dental professionals are currently involved in the Dental Den?
It’s hard to say – many use the resources available, others run the full programme. I’m happy to say it’s growing in a way that our advice is unified, which is the most important issue.

How can dental professionals get involved with the Dental Den?
I have offered the Dental Den as a free programme for anyone to engage in. We have social media and a website to share knowledge and up-to-date evidence-based practices. There are also resources available such as the sugar clock, sugar display and leaflets.

The sugar clock displays food pictures and provides visual learning for children, which engages them in the learning process of sugary snacks and drinks. The sugar display shows just how much sugar goes into each snack by pinning packets of sugar next to each drink or snack on a board, which can be easily displayed at a practice.

Training can be provided in groups; I have travelled to Northern Ireland to run workshops for dental care professionals with the Northern Ireland Medical and Dental Training Agency (NIMDTA) – dates are already set for 2015. A group of dental practices in Galway have run a joint training day, too – it’s easy!

The Dental Den aside, how else do you think dental professionals can encourage children to look after their teeth?
Early preventive intervention is key. I believe our healthcare systems need to prioritise children, especially children under five years, where levels of decay are often high.

What advice would you give dental professionals looking to get parents involved in the initiative?
Be confident: it takes a lot of time to deliver the advice to parents and families – charge accordingly if needs be. Use the training of qualified oral health promoters and dental nurses who have the skills and drive to run the Dental Den.

Assess the needs of your patients, establish which children are more likely to be at a higher risk of poor oral health and offer a method that may prevent decay in the future. This will give job statisfaction and, more importantly, parents are happy – and happy parents mean patient loyalty and referral. We all know the power of word-of-mouth referrals.

teeth, oral health, children, families, healthcare

Kellie O’Shaughnessy began her dental career as a dental nurse when she was just 18 years old, progressing to dental hygiene at the University of College Cork in 2002. She has since completed a specialist certificate in health promotion (oral health) and is currently undertaking a masters in health promotion at the National University of Ireland, Galway.