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Hygienist Takes Creative Approach to Educating Kids About Oral Health

Tracy Laughner, RDH, is passionate about oral health science.

Tracy Laughner, RDH, is passionate about oral health science. After graduating from a community college dental hygiene program in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, offered through the University of Kentucky, and beginning clinical practice, she noticed that many of her patients had serious oral health problems due to a lifetime of neglect.

“Having healthy teeth or, in some cases, not having teeth at all can truly affect people’s quality of life. As much as we hygienists want to help people be healthy and functional, we encounter many patients where it is too late. I look at these patients and wonder how did this happen? After a decade of getting to know these patients, I found that many just did not know the details of what would happen to their teeth if they drank soda every day, chain smoked, sucked on lemon drops nightly, and didn’t floss or brush their teeth twice a day. It reminds me of when I purchased my first car. No one explained why I needed to change the oil every 4,000 miles, and thus I didn’t. One day I found myself on the side of the interstate with a blown-up engine. This experience reminds me of my patients who have been told what to do, but not why, so they did not find the time to do it,” Laughner explains.

Children learn about oral health
Tracy Laughner, RDH, uses fun props to teach children about oral health science through the nonprofit organization Plan Ahead Smiles Program.

Her dedication to reaching patients before their oral health has suffered devastating consequences inspired her to start a nonprofit organization: Plan Ahead Smiles Program (planaheadsmilesprogram.org). With this organization, Laughner goes beyond chairside to educate children about oral health science. The Florence, Kentucky-based program provides interactive teaching experiences in the school setting. Designed to encourage young children to plan ahead in the future of their own oral health, the fun props and engaging approach not only get kids excited about taking care of their mouths but also make oral health science easy to understand and remember.

“Establishing this children’s education program took more than 200 hours and much time goes into communicating with schools, local coalitions, board of directors, and sponsors, such as Delta Dental of Kentucky,” Laughner notes. “The fun part is loading the 12-foot mouth and about 20 other props into a hauler and driving to one of the 20 counties we visit in Kentucky so I can teach a cafeteria full of kids the real science behind their mouths. The interactive science education covers the science behind periodontal diseases, decay, dental visits, nutrition, oral health effects of smoking, and fluoride.”

Laughner hopes to reach every first- and third -grader in the state of Kentucky with the Plan Ahead Smiles program with the ultimate goal of improving the poor oral health statistics across the region.

From Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. November 2019;17(10):15.

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