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Emphasizing the Importance of Oral Health

Amy N. Smith, RDH, MS, MPH, PhD

Amy N. Smith, RDH, MS, MPH, PhD

At Georgia State University (GSU) in Atlanta, the school’s dental hygiene students have fabricated custom mouthguards to protect the dentitions of the Panthers football players, thanks to Amy N. Smith, RDH, MS, MPH, PhD. Over the summer, 24 students in her dental materials class created 38 custom mouthguards for the players. The university’s associate athletic director praised the dental hygiene students’ efforts, noting that the custom-made guards are heads and shoulders above the “boil and bite” type the players had used previously.

Smith is an assistant professor at the GSU Perimeter College Dental Hygiene Program. She teaches orofacial anatomy, public health, and dental materials while also instructing in first- and second-year clinic sessions. She wrote two chapters in Wilkins’ Clinical Practice of the Dental Hygienist and co-authored the textbook Anatomy of Orofacial Structures. Her research interests include increasing entry-level education for dental hygienists; dental hygiene educator identity, satisfaction, commitment, and retention; student athletes’ oral health-related quality of life; and barriers to care for older adults.

Smith spoke to Sunstar Ebrief about her passion for oral health and the dental hygiene profession.

How did this program get started and will it continue?

I was inspired to start the athletic mouthguard project while researching a National College Athletic Association (NCAA) grant opportunity. The NCAA only requires student athletes who play football, lacrosse, and field hockey to wear athletic mouthguards. They don’t require any other sports, contact or otherwise, to wear them. Since we know the benefits of protecting the dentition during all sports, I thought this would be a great opportunity for our dental hygiene students to gain real world experiences while providing a valuable product to student athletes. My idea for the grant was to purchase intraoral scanners and printers to create mouthguards for those sports not required to wear one. I wasn’t awarded the grant, but the athletics department was still interested in having the mouthguards made for the football team, so I changed the project to utilize alginate impressions, poured models, and vacuum formed mouthguards.

Both the Athletics Department and the Dental Hygiene Program were pleased with the results from our summer project and the goal is to continue it this spring. I have applied for a grant through Delta Dental, and we are hoping to acquire a few scanners and a printer to be able to continue the project using the best practices. If the project isn’t funded through a grant, everyone involved is committed to continuing the partnership using traditional techniques.

What benefits are gained by the participating students?

The dental hygiene students gained skills in impression fabrication and model pouring. They were required to create a delivery script prior to delivering the mouthguard, so they had to research use and care instructions as well. Value was also gained by performing dental services outside of the clinic and managing the nuances that go along with that. The student athletes benefitted from having a custom mouthguard made and they learned about the services we provide at our clinic as well.

What sparked your interest in becoming a dental hygienist?

I previously served active duty in the United States Navy as a dental assistant, and I didn’t feel as if I was doing enough. Of course, I worked hard, but I wanted to provide more for patients, and I was limited by the scope of my role. Becoming a dental hygienist allowed me to provide oral care for patients in a way I couldn’t as a dental assistant.

What is your favorite part about your current work in education?

I love planning and implementing community oral health projects and programs with students. I was recently awarded a $100,000 Delta Dental Access to Care grant that will allow us to purchase portable dental equipment and supplies. Students will use them to perform comprehensive dental hygiene services for senior citizens in areas around Atlanta. We hope to provide care to at least 130 patients who otherwise struggle with barriers to care.

Within my public health courses, I work with students to plan screening and education projects in the fall and then we implement them in the spring. We visit HeadStart locations and senior centers to provide oral health screenings and oral health education, apply fluoride varnish, perform xerostomia testing, and hand out smile bags and referrals. Being able to provide all of these services to the community, and have students experience that with me, is an honor I don’t take for granted.

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