During the 2019 Spring Semester, second year dental hygiene students in the Community Dental Health class will conduct outreach programs that focus on oral health education. This practice harkens to a time when dental hygienists were not employed in private practice dental offices, but rather in public settings, most commonly schools. “This “outside the private practice” perspective helps students to see their impact at a community-wide level,” said Julie Stage-Rosenberg, professor of dental hygiene.
Typically, students in the Community Dental Health class develop programs for elementary-aged students in local schools, or for aging populations in nursing homes. However, two of Stage-Rosenberg’s students are putting a unique twist on the assignment to take what they know about the benefits of oral hygiene to two populations who need it the most: TMCC students in the Getting Ahead program, and young adults who are a part of Washoe County’s Sober 24.
Why Dental Hygiene?
Recent studies have revealed that attending to your oral health is more than a point of social etiquette; it’s vital to a person’s health and well-being. While bad breath might be off-putting, long-term neglect of tooth decay and periodontitis (advanced gum disease) have been linked to other serious medical disorders, such as heart attack, stroke and diabetes.
To populations who have limited access to dental care, due to immobility, economic factors or geographic location, education and services are vital lifelines to a higher quality of life and overall improved health.
Reaching Out to Those in Need
Dental Hygiene students Bevan Roen and Sakura Brandon are creating curricula based on data collected by a pre-program needs assessment survey for the two very different cohorts. “Before we started collecting data, we thought the two populations would be similar,” said Roen. Instead, Roen and Brandon have discovered that TMCC Getting Ahead students and young adults in the Sober 24 program struggle with very different aspects of oral health.
“The TMCC cohort struggle with nutrition and access to care,” said Roen. “Whereas the Sober 24 group needs education and support for tobacco cessation.” Starting in February 2019, Roen and Brandon will teach two classes to each group, targeting information and support that each cohort needs with the overall goal of promoting the oral health and habits of both populations. Additionally, every participant will receive a voucher for a free cleaning at the Dental Clinic as well as referrals to affordable dental and medical providers in the community.
“This is the final project before the students graduate and begin their professional careers,” said Stage-Rosenberg, who remarked that several dental hygiene students in previous years have formed unique partnerships with community entities like Roen and Brandon have. Past partners have included: The Nevada Youth Empowerment Project, the Salvation Army, Step2 Reno, and United Cerebral Palsy. The projects are intended to open students’ eyes to the need for outreach efforts, and provide an increase in services to underserved populations and locations that don’t have them.
Stage-Rosenberg notes that the experience of working with those in need impacts her students. “Sometimes they go on to do more in public health as a result of this class. Seeing the need in the world has driven other students to work in underserved areas.”