Community service gets personal
If you want to get someone’s attention, give them information that will help them address something that is both personal and beneficial. For teenagers it might be teeth whitening techniques or bad breath prevention. For older people, or their caregivers, it might be basic denture care or prevention of xerostomia (dry mouth due to medications).
That is how Visalia campus Dental Hygiene students approach their Oral Health Class’s Target Group Project. The assignment for each student is to identify a group that meets or works together regularly – such as a middle or high school class, elder care staffers or volunteers – and meet with them to determine their current oral hygiene needs and practices and/or responsibilities to others.
DH students assess the knowledge and performance level of their chosen group and develop a lesson plan that might improve their group’s routine, products or technique. Their second visit to their group lays out the plan, educates the group in new equipment, technology or methodology and provides demonstrations, using those tools and advancements. Three-six weeks later the third visit assesses the success of their plan and its implementation.
“As a teacher, the Target Group Project is an opportunity to observe the students utilize what they’ve learned to impact the health of the community,” says Brenda Serpa, DH Program Director. “It’s exciting to see them put all of the pieces together and make a difference.”
Caregivers who assist patients with, or who perform, dental hygiene care may learn new methodology, such as fluoride treatments and brushing or cleaning techniques. Their patients may experience improved oral hygiene and appearance.
Lesson plans for middle and high school students might include information about the importance of mouth guards to prevent tooth loss and the dangers of prolonged use of chewing tobacco. Oral cancer recently claimed the life of baseball Hall of Famer, Tony Gwynn, San Diego Padres right fielder who for many years chewed tobacco.
Dental Hygiene students may initially dread the thought of going out into the community and putting themselves in front of an audience. But, they almost always complete their assignment with a new understanding and appreciation of their role as educator in the community.
“I believe it is extremely valuable to participate in the community aspect of my education,” says Katelyn Van Ruiten, DH student. “Becoming involved helped me to realize how many people in the community need our help with oral health and that we can make a difference.”
The education models the DH students design and implement have helped both caregivers to provide, and individuals to enjoy, a healthier life and social experience. It also brings Dental Hygiene students just a little closer to the profession they have in their sights.
“Serving people in need of oral hygiene education helped to reiterate the point within my mind and hopefully our audiences’ minds that dental hygienists are essential to any community,” says DH graduate, Somaly Bundband.
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