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Stopping disease before it starts - dental students share oral health message

Student group volunteers at fall family festival

In a state where oral health disease has been a long-standing challenge, the students at West Virginia University’s School of Dentistry know the prevention advice they share is as important as the treatments they perform.

"The only effective way to get ahead is prevention. Teaching families the importance of routine dental visits and how to brush and floss is integral to stopping these disease processes before they start,” said fourth-year student Devon Zegeer. “It's an inexpensive way to save people strife in the long run."

Oral health data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2016 57.6% of adults in West Virginia had visited a dentist or dental clinic in the past year. Neighboring Virginia reported 70.5% of adults who had been to a dentist within a year. While lower than Virginia statistics, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Kentucky had numbers well above 60%.

Limited access to providers, lack of insurance coverage and prioritizing other expenses are often to blame for the poor oral health statistics in West Virginia.

“Many rural areas in the state have no local dentists or facilities that put prevention at the forefront of their practice because of their focus on the abundant treatment needs. If the West Virginia University School of Dentistry can help expose families to dental education, it is our duties as healthcare professionals to share the message,” added Zegeer.

On Sunday, October 7, the School of Dentistry was a proud participant in the West Virginia Botanic Garden’s tenth annual Fall Children’s Festival.

School of Dentistry students demonstrate proper brushing at a children's fall festival.Nearly 800 participants, children and adults, were in Monongalia County for a slew of outdoor activities provided by the Botanic Garden. Dental students adapted their oral healthcare and dental hygiene messages to fit the outdoor theme.

An animal skull and jaw display allowed for the easy explanation of the basic types of teeth while another activity helped compare human teeth and animal teeth and the jobs they perform.

A handcrafted display allowed visitors to brush a lion’s teeth to learn technique and how long to brush.

A Lego station with yarn and fake slime taught youngsters about the importance of flossing.

“It is our job to inform the public about this important topic. My favorite way is by getting children involved in learning why to brush and how to brush their teeth. Everything starts with prevention. Keep brushing twice a day to keep a happy healthy smile," advised Miranda Kalaskey who will graduate in May.

While children are busy with activities, it gives dental students the chance to reach out to parents.

“Such large events, like the Fall Children’s Festival, allow us to reach the most people in the shortest amount of time in a much more inviting and fun environment. These types of events also break the barriers of cost and location,” said soon-to-be graduate Margaret Jones. “This exposure not only allows us to share information about the WVU School of Dentistry Pediatric and General Practice Clinics, it also prompts the conversation with people about dental health overall.”

Dental student booth volunteers included Margaret Jones, Devon Zegeer, Mary Edwards, Mariam Alnahyo and Miranda Kalaskey who are all members of the class of 2019.

Approximately a half dozen other dental student volunteers helped with prepping for the festival.

Misbah Muzaffer, Elizabeth Higginbotham, Tess Ferrari and Sarah Klenk were some of the dental school volunteers who also filled in at several stations across the festival.