(HARLINGEN, Texas) – February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, a reminder that a child’s captivating smile reflects good oral health. And for a child to achieve healthy teeth, prevention of tooth decay is key — something that is stressed in the Dental Hygiene program at Texas State Technical College.
“Teaching the proper brushing technique at a young age will help decrease the risk of tooth decay in the future,” said Jessica Myers, a TSTC Dental Hygiene instructor. “Our students help children recognize foods that are at high risk. When a child understands that, they will grasp the concept.”
Myers outlined some best practices for maintaining good dental health, practices that students in the Dental Hygiene program learn as part of their studies.
“The best advice for parents would be to schedule an appointment with their child’s dentist or dental hygienist every six months,” she said. “It’s recommended that children brush their teeth twice a day for two minutes. We do suggest that children eat healthy foods that are low in sugar. Most importantly, use fluoride because it strengthens teeth and reduces the risk of tooth decay.”
Victoria Martin, another TSTC Dental Hygiene instructor, said students receive a comprehensive education in the program that includes learning how dental health can affect other aspects of a person’s health and vice versa.
“The basics start with the embryologic development and anatomy of the head, neck, oral tissues and teeth,” she said. “Students learn about the causative agents of disease, such as transmission, progression, and the variables that contribute to the connection between oral health and overall systemic health.”
Students in the hands-on program develop the skills needed to provide preventive dental care to the public and attend clinical rotations both on and off campus during their last semester.
Martin said students are taught to observe certain factors prior to performing a dental cleaning.
“Emotional evaluation is a critical issue,” she said. “A student’s goal is to ensure the child patient is comfortable and happy. Then an assessment of their oral health is conducted. This determines not only optimal care, but gauges how well a child will maintain their teeth at home.”
TSTC student Jaime Davila said what he is learning in the program is helping him teach his own child about good dental hygiene.
“It has helped me to become a better role model,” he said.
A significant component of the program is about spreading awareness. Students participate in community engagement and offer fun oral health presentations at area elementary schools.
Davila, who is working on an Associate of Applied Science degree, said that is part of the program’s Community Dentistry course.
“We dress up and engage with the youth,” he said. “Our purpose is to make a memorable experience about healthy teeth.”
Desiree Ochoa is also studying for an Associate of Applied Science degree in the program.
She is pleased when a parent asks her for tips to improve their child’s teeth.
“It makes me feel that I’m performing my job at a high level,” she said. “I had a five-year-old patient who disliked brushing her teeth. I played a song for her on YouTube that would help change that. She was reluctant at first, but then she came around.”
According to onetonline.org, the need for dental hygienists in Texas was expected to grow 32% from 2020 to 2030. Salaries in the state average $77,600 a year.
For more information about TSTC, visit tstc.edu.