From Rotation to Outreach: Oral Health Education for Kids

Led by second-year PA student Kelsie Dirksing, 34 Mount St Joseph University (MSJU) PA students raised oral health awareness by providing education as well as toothbrushes, toothpaste, and floss to more than 200 Sayler Park Elementary School students in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The project was an outgrowth of Dirksing’s pediatric rotation in a medically underserved community.

“On my rotation, I noticed that the majority of my young patients did not have a toothbrush,” said Dirksing, MSJU Class of 2020. “Thus, I took the initiative to apply for the nccPA Health Foundation’s grant to develop a program that would assist me in teaching oral health while providing supplies that would make a direct impact in children’s lives.”

MSJU’s Program Director Patrick Cafferty, PA-C, faculty member Rebekah Moore, PA-C, and her preceptor Rachael Doll, CNP, supported Dirksing’s outreach plans. Setting up the project required establishing a strong partnership between the MSJU PA program and the Salyer Park school as well as the development of lesson plans for the two-part educational program.

During each session, 2 to 3 PA students from MSJU’s Class of 2021 visited the Salyer Park’s classrooms to educate about proper brushing and flossing, how dental caries can affect overall health, and the importance of a proper diet for strong teeth.

The curriculum sought to educate and engage the students, ages pre-K to 5th grade, in ways that could be of greatest benefit to them. The sessions leveraged large models, which allowed students to practice proper brushing and flossing techniques, as well as fun and interactive paper activities and puzzles.

An age-appropriate survey collected basic data and found that more than half of the elementary students had experienced at least one cavity. The findings underscore the need for early educational interventions to raise awareness about the importance of oral health and to promote good brushing and flossing routines.

After each session, the kids received oral health supplies to take home as well as healthy snacks to reinforce what was taught during the preceding session.

Dirksing added, “My involvement in this project has been an extremely rewarding aspect of my time in PA school, and I look forward to carrying over the leadership skills and lessons that I’ve learned to my career following graduation.”

In addition, Dirksing will share her project’s results in a poster presentation at the Ohio Association of Physician Assistants (OAPA) Fall Conference. Check out her lessons plans here to adapt for oral health outreach in your community.

This project was supported by the nccPA Health Foundation’s year-round grant programs.

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