Earlier this year, Lycoming County United Way was awarded a health and wellness grant from The Blue Ribbon Foundation of Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania to provide dental education to pre-school children in Lycoming County.
LCUW, in collaboration with Susquehanna Community Dental Center and the Pennsylvania Department of Health, planned and implemented "Healthy Smiles," a dental education program for more than 800 local children, ages three to five, in low-income preschool and child care settings across Lycoming County.
"Oral hygiene education and early intervention for children in this age group is lacking in our area. Tooth decay is one of the most preventable childhood diseases yet dental care remains the most prevalent unmet health care need for children. Poor oral health has a significant impact on a child's overall health, growth, development, and learning," explained Rosann Pelleschi, director of funds distribution and community building for LCUW. "We want to help educate young children and their parents on the importance of good dental care."
A certified dental hygiene provider and a public health educator delivered more than 50 one-hour educational sessions covering age-appropriate topics such as the importance of taking care of one's teeth, brushing, flossing and healthy dietary habits.
"The program begins with a 'pre-test' that asks the children just three questions: 1) What can you do to keep your teeth healthy?; 2) How often should you brush your teeth?; and 3) How many minutes should you brush your teeth?," added Pelleschi. "The lesson objectives are simple teeth are an important part of our bodies; keeping our teeth clean helps keep them healthy; and visiting the dentist and eating healthy food are important parts of having health teeth."
After the lesson, the same three questions are asked in a post-test to measure how well the children understood the information.
As part of the program, each child received a toothbrush, a flosser and a goody bag that included "The ABCs of Good Oral Health" coloring book. In addition, all parents and caregivers received resource materials to help them reinforce good behaviors at home and access to dental professional service.
"We were very pleased to be able to have the Healthy Smiles program in our child care facilities," said Carolyn Hawk, child care director for River Valley Regional YMCA. "The presentation was professional, age-appropriate and fun for the children to learn. The children especially enjoyed the 'Brush Your Teeth Please' pop-up book the hygienist read and the 'Clean Mouth/Dirty Mouth' model it looked so real. In addition, the children loved the hands-on interaction with the tooth puppets. Now that they've been through the program, we know the children are much more likely to brush and floss their teeth."
"On behalf of our collaborative partners we are most grateful for The Blue Ribbon Foundation's support in addressing this important health need in Lycoming County. Proper dental care plays a major role in an individual's overall health and well-being," said Scott N. Lowery, LCUW executive director. "The Healthy Smiles initiative is aimed at teaching our pre-school children the proper way to care for their teeth in a fun-filled educational manner. The program is designed to have a positive impact on both children and their parents and addresses an identified health need in our area."
For more information on Lycoming County United Way, visit lcuw.org, call 323-9448 or visit the office at 1 W. Third St., Suite 208.