Going to a dental office for the first time can be scary. But what about going to your school and walking in to see a dental office in your gym, hallway or cafeteria? That is an experience that many first and second graders have every week during the school year throughout Denver.
Kids In Need of Dentistry’s (KIND) Chopper Topper Program has been providing oral health education, dental screenings and sealants in elementary schools for the past 19 years. In 1998, Chopper Topper visited its first school, Cheltenham Elementary, part of the Denver Public School District. At the end of the 2016-2017 school year, the program will have visited 97 elementary schools in 10 school districts in the Denver Metro Area. Run by three dental hygienists who work in different elementary schools each week, Chopper Topper is the largest school-based sealant program in Colorado.
In 2010, KIND received funding from Oral Health America to help expand its program. Each year KIND works to expand the program to reach even more students, with incentives for grades with 90%+ participation.
Many of the kids seen through the Chopper Topper program have never been to a dentist, but once the kids meet the hygienists and learn what is going to happen, their fear is replaced with inquiry and excitement. They love coming in to see the equipment and learn about dental care and why sealants are so important. The dental hygienists work hard to make the experience pleasant, and students walk away knowing that good dental care is fun.
Damian is a perfect example. He had never been to a dentist and was terrified when the hygienist came to get him to take him down for his exam. He started to cry and wouldn’t leave his desk. The next day, the hygienist came to see if Damian wanted to try it and he said, “I’m too scared. I don’t think I can do it.” His best friend Kaleb, who had already gotten his sealant done, said that he would go with him. Kaleb told Damian, “It is so cool! You get a goodie bag and everything.” And he added, “It’s good because you get yummy vitamins at the end to keep your teeth healthy.” With this encouragement, Damian got up and went with Kaleb at his side and received sealant on his teeth. Damian was so proud of himself and left with a huge smile.
Chopper Topper is part of a pilot project called the Smart Mouth Smart Kids Toolkit. The toolkit contains an oral health data collection tool (a targeted and focused electronic dental record) that is easily used on a tablet, laptop or personal computer. The data collection tool allows surveillance of children’s oral health status over time, giving providers, schools and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment much needed longitudinal data.