LINGLE – Mixing good health with a bit of good fun, and wearing brightly-colored wigs, a crew from a Torrington dental practice has been working their way through schools in Goshen County, preaching the importance of good dental hygiene.
In conjunction with Children’s Dental Health Month in February, dental hygienists Cara Lawrence and Tara Rutt and dental assistant Kristie Sierra brought their message to the kindergarten and first grade classes at Lingle-Fort Laramie Elementary School here last week. It’s a message Ms. Lawrence has been sharing for 40 years.
And it’s all about getting the kids while they’re young, she said.
“Years ago, we started talking to fourth and fifth graders,” Ms. Lawrence said. “With everything in education now, children are exposed to information at a much younger age.
“We were finding that children had already developed their dental habits before they were fourth graders,” she said. “In order for them to understand the necessity for good daily care and, particularly, for good nutrition, it’s important to get them started when they’re very young.”
According to a study by the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, in Rochester, Minn., poor oral health may be linked to a host of diseases, including cardiovascular disease and endocarditis, an infection of the inner lining of the heart. Severe gum infections, or periodontitis, have also been linked to premature birth and low birth weight in infants.
The beauty of the local program is it’s not just a lecture, Lawrence said. The group tries to make it fun to appeal to the young minds of their listeners.
“We use a bit of our dramatic skills,” she said. “We try to pick a theme that is current for the children so they can relate a little bit more.
“It doesn’t just look like someone coming in who looks like a nurse, saying, ‘You have to brush your teeth,’ and ‘Here’s a tooth brush,’” Lawrence said. “This gives them something to relate to.”
The women work for the Family Dentistry practice of doctors Timothy Pieper and Britton Marsh in Torrington. They alternate with another local practice annually, one group focusing on Torrington schools while the other visits students at the outlying campuses in LaGrange, Lingle and Fort Laramie.
The presentation includes what happens during a visit to the dentist, what they can expect to see, hear and be asked to do. They also talk to the children about the anatomy of the mouth, permanent vs. baby teeth, and what happens if someone looses a tooth or need braces.
The bulk of the presentation deals with nutrition, Lawrence said, particularly about the amount of sugar there is in common foods and beverages the children eat or drink every day.
“What we try to do is show the things kids are exposed to all the time,” she said. “Then, we’ve got jars of sugar. We try to get them to figure out how much sugar is in each product.”
Learning about dental hygiene is important for the youngsters, said Candi Thomas, school nurse at Lingle-Fort Laramie Elementary. Teachers routinely talk about a variety of health-related issues, including oral health, during regular classroom time. But having outside visitors come in and make the lesson fun really drives it home, she said.
“For these little guys, it’s very important,” Thomas said. “This is where they’re learning to start taking care of themselves. It’s a perfect time to reiterate what’s important to them.”