Working with patients is integral to the practice of clinical dentistry, and in order to offer the best care for our patients as future providers, we need to be able to communicate health conditions and treatment plans. We must be able to speak in a way that is clear and simple to people who may not necessarily have the background to understand medical jargon. Predental students might ask, “What does communicating health knowledge have to do with me, especially if I am not seeing patients anytime soon?” It is because we serve an important role in the ongoing efforts to improve oral health literacy in our communities.
Over the past few years, I have been able to participate in oral health education initiatives at multiple dental clinics around Boston. One of my favorite programs is the Action for Children and Teens in Oral Health Need (ACTION) program, founded by Harvard School of Dental Medicine in 2009. ACTION strives to improve access to pediatric dental care among patients of the Cambridge Health Alliance and its affiliate Windsor Street Care Clinic. These providers are unique, as they accept the public insurance plan MassHealth, which covers health care for Massachusetts residents with low or medium incomes.
One Saturday a month, predental students would spend time engaging children at the Windsor Street Care Clinic with applicable oral health information before their appointment. During my volunteer shifts, I would invite the boys and girls to a story of how a kingdom of sugar bugs, with fuel from the yummy sugary candies and juices, could slowly creep under the “cape” of human teeth. Using tooth models, food magnets and other visuals that the children could touch, the kids would attentively engage in the story. They would leave for their appointment feeling proud of their extended vocabulary, which now included the words “cavity” and “enamel,” and would show off to their parents. But I would feel even prouder, knowing that these children were learning and understanding this new oral health information.
Engaging in opportunities to educate our communities is crucial to both advocating for patients and lifting up the profession of dentistry. After all, dentists fulfill a much greater role beyond performing consultations and procedures in the clinic; they serve as educators at the forefront of dental public health.
As predental students, it is never too early for us to start developing the communication skills necessary to effectively engage in our communities. We need to empower our communities with the skills and knowledge necessary to maintain their oral health. Not only will patients with newfound knowledge in oral health maintain their oral hygiene better, but the frequent interactions resulting from the sharing and communicating of this knowledge will strengthen the relationships between dentists and their communities, allowing the role of maintaining good oral health to be a more seamless part of people’s lives.
~Hilary Wong, member, National Predental Advisory Committee and District 1 Predental Advisory Committee
2017 Predental Month is sponsored by: