Patiently waiting: Education with the kids while transitioning in dental hygiene career

Amy Ericks, RDH, who is changing her dental hygiene career path, pauses to share patient education tips with children.

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The opportunity to enter a long-term care facility and provide oral hygiene care and services will be such an amazing experience, and I can’t wait to start. The paperwork has been sent and prayers are being said. In the meantime, while we are waiting for a decision from the state board of dentistry regarding my collaborative agreement application, I’d like to branch off a bit.

Since starting this new part-time position and pursuing the CA (collaborative agreement), I have been trying to get back to the excitement that I had in hygiene school. It was the feeling that I had a goal to work toward to make a difference, to plant a seed, to provide other opportunities for learning, and discovering the importance of oral health.

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Previously published articles by Amy Ericks

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I have been thinking about those individuals who may not come in to the dental office regularly. Maybe they are apprehensive while there and do not absorb the information that is given. Maybe they are the children who come in without an engaged parent. We assume that our patients, or the parents, truly understand the mountain of information that we give to them at their appointments, or maybe we simply hope that they do.

I find myself consistently telling my patients that it is easier to maintain health than it is to regain health. I feel that it is important to provide the foundation of good home-care habits and knowledge from an early age—not only during February when Children’s Dental Health Month rolls around, and not only during their possibly rushed dental appointment.

I also feel that since this idea is not the typical foundation that is being implemented, there is some catching up to do. I am finding that there are several opportunities within my community where I could share my knowledge and experience.

It has always been very enjoyable for me to treat children in clinical practice. Their imagination and curiosity challenge me in ways that an adult patient just doesn’t. Unfortunately, in the past, I have experienced appointments that are too short to accomplish meaningful OHI for the child patient and their parents. Some appointments were so discouraging knowing that the little bit of information I was able to pass along to the parents did not motivate them to change their habits at home, and I was seeing the same the results of poor home care and dietary choices at the next hygiene appointment.

OHI in the learning environment

I thought that it could be very beneficial to educate the kids in an environment where they are already learning, at their school, pre-school, or daycare center. Here there are less distractions and they are already have their learning hats on.

I prefer smaller groups as I feel that the message is delivered better and allows for more interaction with the audience. I contacted a local private school and was welcomed to come and speak to the younger kids from kindergarten through fourth grade. I recruited my co-worker, a fellow hygienist, to come along and help.

The classes had prepared for our visit by completing some in-class activities that were related to teeth and oral home hygiene. They were eager to share with us what they had learned and what their home oral hygiene was like. The children were refreshingly honest and entertaining with their questions and answers. We discussed the basics—brushing, flossing and diet. We also talked about all of the amazing things that having healthy teeth and gums allows us to do, such as smiling, whistling, and eating, and how our mouth is connected to the rest of our body.

I was also able to go to a local pre-school and meet with some younger kids as well—ages 18 months to age 5. Delta Dental of South Dakota provided me with an educational kit on loan that had a lot of helpful resources. The younger kids really liked the puppet with teeth as we all practiced our brushing. For both groups my employer graciously donated goodie bags with toothbrushes, flossers, and toothpaste. I found an unending amount of activity sheets online and chose a few that were age appropriate that I included in the goodie bags, along with a letter to the parents that outlined what was discussed with their kids and encouraging them to discuss what they learned. Another opportunity for repetition.

I am on the search for my next educational opportunity and have hopes that I will reach many of the children in this community. I also have plans to actively seek groups outside of schools with the target audiences having a systemic connection to oral health, and begin the task of catching up.


Amy Ericks, RDH, BSDH, is currently transitioning offices and preparing to pursue a dream. She graduated from the University of Wyoming in 2010 with an Associate of Applied Science in dental hygiene. Five years of experience, two houses, one more child, and several internet classes later, she graduated with a Bachelor of Science in dental hygiene. She is excited to share her journey.


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