SMILE program teaches importance of good oral health

Did you know students with poor dental health miss more days of school than their peers due to cavity and tooth pain?

Tarwinder Rai - 18 February 2015

Studies show that children with poor oral health are more likely to miss school and have more trouble concentrating in class because of tooth pain or infections. To help teach children the importance of good oral health, University of Alberta's dental hygiene students offered tips and tricks to a class of Grade 5 students at the Millwoods Christian School through the SMILE initiative.

Established in 2012, SMILE is a volunteer initiative led by dental hygiene students from the U of A's School of Dentistry that aims to provide oral health education by visiting schools and hospitals across Edmonton.

Samantha Dalpe, a fourth-year dental hygiene student and SMILE program leader, educated roughly 53 students on proper brushing and flossing techniques, gum disease, and the importance of eating tooth-friendly foods. Also volunteering were dental hygiene students Melissa Chiscop and Harley LaRocque.

"Instilling the knowledge of dental health at a young age will allow the students we see to become more involved in their dental care," says Dalpe, who was inspired to be a leader for SMILE after taking a public health education class. "So much of what children learn today affects them as adults and this is very true in regards to dental health."

For 10-year-old students Hannah Berg and Joshua Nieves, the presentation provided them with a great list of do's and don'ts to keeping their teeth healthy.

"I was shocked to learn that too much milk can be terrible for your teeth," says Berg, adding she was also surprised to learn that smoking cigarettes causes gum disease as well. "But I liked that they walked us through how to brush and floss your teeth. I'm going to try to floss more and eat more healthy food."

The presentation sparked a flurry of questions from students ranging from "How much sweet stuff is too much?" to "Does freezing damage my teeth?" and "If somebody smokes once during a happy time like a wedding, will they get gum disease?"

Nieves is on board with Berg and says he's definitely going to incorporate flossing into his daily dental routine.

"I'm going to start flossing correcting and gently," says Nieves. "I learned that it's really easy to get infections and flossing is almost like brushing your teeth. Smoking can have really bad side effects on your teeth and people wouldn't know it or see it."

According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), early childhood caries (ECC) account for about one-third of all day surgeries performed on Canadian children between the ages of 1 and 5.

"Prevention of dental diseases is so important. Hopefully with the knowledge we are giving these children through this initiative they will be able to prevent dental disease and not just treat it," added Dalpe.