Mercy Foundation’s Healthy Kids Outreach Program is helping to educate Douglas County’s youth about dental health.
“The Healthy Kids Outreach Program provides twice a year prevention clinics with screening, fluoride varnish, silver diamine fluoride, and other elevated services based on risk and parent’s consent form,” said Michelle Wilfong, a dental education specialist. “Our community dental health coordinator works with families to connect them for follow-up on urgent/immediate needs along with establishing a dental home.”
HKOP provides preventative health services and comprehensive health education at area schools, teaching kids how to stay healthy and make healthy choices, she said.
“Educating kids on the fundamentals of personal and dental hygiene, communicable disease prevention, nutrition, exercise, and heart health, and character development ensure a healthier community long into the future,” she said. “In addition, connecting students and their families to the resources they need. Our dental education and dental clinic is just a part of our broad education program.
“Our dental learning lab is hands-on interactive oral health education set up in stations that classrooms come through in about 20-30 minutes,” she added. “The stations are designed to be age-appropriate for each grade level and builds concept upon concept to expand student knowledge on oral health care.”
Wilfong said HKOP strives to teach children about their dental health.
“The goal of our lab is to get dental education out to our students that isn’t readily available to them on the average school day,” she said. “Our goals are to excite and empower students to learn and want to care for their teeth, alleviate anxiety about attending the dental clinic, and practice basic skills we discuss in clinic. We want to instill great oral health habits, knowledge on impacts of drugs and other risky behaviors, and encourage them to see their dentist every six months for a checkup.”
There are different lessons for different ages.
“Kindergarten and first grade we talk all about the fundamentals, brushing and flossing,” Wilfong said. “What we use our mouth for, talking, eating, and smiling! In the second and third grade, we talk about the importance of dental sealants, how sugary foods affect their teeth, fluoride, and proper brushing and flossing techniques. In the fourth and fifth grade, we start talking about tobacco products, parts of a tooth, and why using mouthguards while playing sports is so important. In the sixth through eighth grade, we talk about parts of the tooth, tobacco use, dental careers, orthodontics, and sugary foods and drinks. In the ninth through 12th grade, we talk about orthodontics, tooth anatomy, dental careers, effects of drugs/tobacco, and other oral diseases.”
COVID-19 has impacted HKOP significantly.
“Our program thrives being in-person and hands-on,” Wilfong said. “Unfortunately, during COVID, there have been updated rules and mandates that have hindered our ability to always be in person. So, to combat that, we have created some virtual options for our schools. Those virtual options give us the opportunity to still get our dental education to every student but put our schools at less of a risk. We are also utilizing these virtual options this year when schools do not have a space for us. We also heavily rely on community volunteers to help with our presentations, but during the pandemic, in order to keep everyone safe, we have tried to limit our volunteer usage.”
Wilfong enjoys making a difference in the community.
“I love knowing that I am making a difference in the community that I grew up in,” she said. “I love knowing that at some point during my day, I may have said something that would stick with a child for the rest of their life! Something that they will think about every day while brushing their teeth.”