A group of preschoolers recently brushed up on the basics of dental care and checkups, thanks to a little help from the local tooth fairy and her dinosaur friends.
Bartholomew County Health Department Dental Coordinator Colleen Ferry Sullivan, aka “the Tooth Ferry,” visited Busy Bees Academy Feb. 24 to teach students about oral hygiene with some memorable methods — including checking stuffed dinosaurs for cavities and introducing the class to her colleague, a dinosaur doll named Dr. Flossasauris.
After showing the students the animated short “Dudley Visits the Dentist,” Sullivan demonstrated how to dress like a dentist by helping a child put on a mask, gloves, and dental gown.
“Be careful when you get your patients,” Sullivan advised the class, as she helped 5-year-old Anna Ryshavy get dressed. “They are only 1 year old dinosaurs. And today you are Dr. Anna.’
The other students then donned their own dental attire with help from Sullivan and other adults. Next, the newly minted dentists used toothbrushes and dental instruments to inspect and clean the teeth of stuffed dinosaurs, with Sullivan and Dr. Flossasauris offered words of encouragement and advice.
For example, Anna said she wanted to be a dentist and had fun brushing and counting her patient’s teeth.
“Your teeth are nice and shiny,” she told the dino, before reminding him to brush twice a day.
When the checkups were over, Sullivan taught the students a song to remind them to brush their teeth twice a day for two minutes and to go to the dentist twice a year. The students also received a “Dinosaur Dentist Certificate” and dental bags.
Busy Bees’ visit on Friday was just one of many “Dress Like a Dentist” events held by the county health department in February, National Children’s Dental Health Month. These events are also part of Indiana’s Give Kids A Smile activities and the Provincial Health Department’s efforts to bring dental health education to children.
Sullivan estimates she taught about 500 kids about dental care in February, including about 40 at Busy Bees.
“The main goal of this program is to familiarize them with the dentist’s office,” she said.
She also noted that many people have not gotten back into the routine of going to the dentist after the pandemic.
The county health department emphasizes the importance of good dental habits, as well as the severity of tooth decay. According to a 2010 Public Health Report by then-U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, tooth decay is the most common chronic disease in children, five times more common than asthma and seven times more common than hay fever.
“The most common cause of tooth loss in adults is untreated periodontitis,” Benjamin wrote. “Fifty-three million people are living with untreated tooth decay in their permanent teeth. It is striking that a quarter of adults aged 65 and older have lost all their teeth due to an untreated oral disease.”
When asked why some people fear dental visits, Sullivan said parents sometimes worry, which could be due to past experiences.
But as she recently told a group of first graders, when something goes wrong, “the dentist is there to make you feel better.”