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National Children's Dental Health Month off to great start at Nelson Mandela Elementary

For the past week, the 140 students in kindergarten through second grade at Nelson Mandela Elementary in North Omaha have been diligently brushing their teeth in the method demonstrated to them by Creighton University School of Dentistry students and faculty.

And they’ve got it down.

“It’s great to see the enthusiasm of the kids and the modeling being done by the teachers,” said Adam Koch, a fourth-year dental student from Green Bay, Wisconsin. “Making tooth brushing fun is a sure way of helping to instill that good habit at an early age.”

Koch and other Creighton School of Dentistry students and faculty were back at Nelson Mandela Feb. 2 for a follow-up visit to the Jan. 27 launch of a new initiative partnering the School of Dentistry with the elementary school to create a “dental home” for students and families.

The partnership comes just as February, National Children’s Dental Health Month, begins. The partnership’s ultimate goal is to foster good oral health habits in the hope of reaching the goal of a cavity-free school by 2023.

“We’re definitely off to a good start and right on track,” said Kim McFarland, DDS, professor and chair of community and preventive dentistry. “Early interventions like applying fluoride varnish twice a year can help reduce tooth decay by 38 percent. With the whole school behind the prevention effort, we hope that goes home with the children and even out into the community.”

In the months ahead, the School of Dentistry will be returning to Nelson Mandela to do sealants and provide educational programming for students. Along with regular visits by dental students and faculty, Creighton is also helping defray some of the costs of dental care with a voucher system allowing children to receive as much dental care as can be provided on a visit to the School of Dentistry’s clinic for $10.

But as Creighton has done for many years in schools throughout the Omaha area, the preventive and educational work of faculty and students can be a major factor in helping avoid major issues for the youngsters.

“It’s those little things like brushing that end up making a big difference,” Koch said. “If we can do the little things, we can hopefully avoid a big dental visit.”

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