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Diman students take the bite out of dentist visits for local children

Fall River Spirit Correspondent
March 14, 2014 10:00 AM

A trip to the dentist won't be a frightening or painful experience for many youngsters participating in Citizens for Citizens' Head Start, thanks to the compassion of students enrolled in the Dental Assisting Program at Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School.

Students recently hosted two sessions to introduce the preschoolers to a dental chair, and the instruments used by dentists and hygienists during routine examinations and procedures. The children, ages 3 and 4, also learned about hygiene and good nutrition from students in the high school's popular Health Assisting and Culinary Arts programs.

According to Dental Assisting Chairperson Maria Torres, the collaboration between Diman and Head Start was the result of the American Dental Association's 2014 campaign, "Give Kids a Smile," developed to teach children the importance of dental care and to help them begin lifelong healthy lifestyles.

"It's wonderful for our students," Torres said. "It gives them experience working with this age group and providing age-appropriate care."

Torres said that the main focus of the collaborative program was to offer the Head Start students some fun-filled and educational activities in a non-threatening environment. The goal was to have the youngsters associate a trip to the dentist with the positive experience they enjoyed at Diman, thus eliminating unnecessary anxiety and tears.

During their visit to the high school's well-equipped dental lab, the Head Start students were given the opportunity to sit in a dentist's chair, as well as to view, touch and listen to dental equipment, while the Diman students explained simple procedures using kid-friendly terminology.
The large light used to illuminate a patient's mouth was dubbed "Mr. Light," while a suction device was called "Magic Straw," which made the children laugh.

Other highlights of one morning-long session included an introduction to tooth-brushing using a puppet, and watching a video entitled "Peppa Pig's Visit to the Dentist."

Torres said that although the educational program was developed to introduce the youngsters to dental care, some of the Head Start students had already received extensive dental care to correct problems caused by the overconsumption of sugary snacks and soft drinks.

Mary Ferreira, head teacher in the Citizens for Citizens Head Start program, said health education is an important component of the Head Start curriculum. She said parent workshops are offered throughout the year on a variety of health-related topics, including behavior management and mental health issues. Parents attend monthly meetings and staff nurses regularly advise parents and guardians about concerns including nutrition and dental care.

Diman senior and Fall River resident Kaela Resendes described the collaboration as a win-win situation for both the high school students and the preschoolers.
"I love having them here and talking to them," she said. "It teaches us how to communicate with younger patients and opens our eyes to pediatric care."

She added that for the youngsters, "nothing will be out of the ordinary" when they do visit a dentist for a cleaning or procedure.

Another highlight of the Diman visit was a hand-washing demonstration during which the children rubbed lotion on their hands, which appeared as fluorescent "germs" when shown under a special black light. Once the children washed their hands, they were amazed to see that many of the spots had disappeared.

"The students are able to see far fewer germs because of the hand-washing," said Cynthia Berube, a Health Assisting instructor, adding that Head Start participants also enjoyed activities that made them aware of other good personal hygiene practices, such as the need to cover one's mouth when coughing.

The final component of the health program focused on nutrition. Using "MyPlate," the new nutrition guide published by the United States Department of Agriculture, the Head Start students used imitation fruits, vegetables and other foods to create a healthy meal, before enjoying a healthy fresh fruit cup prepared by Diman's Culinary Arts Department.

"It all comes full circle," Torres said.
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