The first, second and third graders at Highline Community Elementary were captivated by characters performing in front of them. They cheered as the Tooth Wizard tackled his arch-enemy, Plaque Man. They paid close attention as the Tooth Wizard showed them how to use brushing and flossing to get rid of plaque which causes cavities and destroys teeth.
It was all part of “The Land of Smiles,” a 30-minute program on oral health that is offered at no cost to elementary schools by Delta Dental. The program, which was presented in six Cherry Creek elementary schools this year, is just one of several ways the Cherry Creek Schools Health Services Department and school nurses support students’ oral health, which is critical to their ability to learn.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that tooth decay is one of the most common chronic conditions of childhood in the United States. About one in five children between the ages of 5 and 11 have at least one untreated, decayed tooth. The percentage of children between the ages of 5 and 19 with untreated tooth decay is more than double among low-income families in comparison to children of higher-income households.
Healthy People 2010 and 2020 list oral health as one of the important focused topics on overall health and well-being. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recognize that good oral health improves a person’s ability to speak, smile, smell, taste, touch, chew, swallow and make facial expressions to show feelings and emotions.
Poor oral health can lead to life long, systemic health impacts such as dental disease, permanently lost teeth, nutritional deficits, chronic pain, interruption of proper digestion and inadequate nutrient absorption, as well as cause difficulty with communication, socialization and quality of life.
“Healthy habits start at a young age,” said Jen Ellerbroek, district resource nurse for elementary schools. “It only takes three times to create a bad habit and 100 times to break it. The earlier in life a habit is created, and the longer it is practiced, the more permanent the habit will become a part of the student’s everyday life. We want to start our students here in the Cherry Creek School District with the right habits from the very beginning. It is with this in mind that we continue to make it a priority to promote and educate our students on preventative health and will always teach them to be their own health advocates.”
The Cherry Creek School District also partners with Chopper Toppers, a program that provides free dental screenings, preventative sealants, dental referrals and oral health education to children in need. This year Chopper Toppers visited the district’s 11 Title I elementary schools, where more than 50 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunch. Chopper Toppers provided free screenings and sealants to students in primary (first, second or third) grades.
Ellerbroek said plans are underway to bring “The Land of Smiles” to all 43 elementary schools next year as part of the district’s continuing effort to support students’ oral health, and in turn, their ability to learn.
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