ACE.P Teaching Strategies for National Children’s Dental Health Month

By Erin Hartnett

In honor of National Children’s Dental Health Month in February, I would like to introduce you to an exciting resource from the NLN: an ACE.P teaching strategy (Advancing Care Excellence for Pediatrics): Oral Health in Children: The Role of the Nurse in Community Settings. For too long, oral health has been a neglected part of overall health. Dental decay continues to be a serious problem in children and affects their growth and development, nutrition, speech, learning, and overall health. Significant disparities in oral health and access to dental care exist in children from minority groups and lower socioeconomic status. It is time for nurses to “put the mouth back in the head” (Haber et al., 2015).

The Oral Health in Children: The Role of the Nurse in Community Settings teaching strategy for nursing students focuses on developing oral health competencies, specifically the ability to recognize abnormal oral findings and to educate parents and children on the importance of oral health and hygiene. The pre-work includes two important resources for both faculty and students: 1) a summary of the Surgeon General’s Report, an essential landmark document and the basis for the oral health movement, and 2) Smiles for Life (SFL), an online interprofessional oral health curriculum with eight courses that cover the lifespan (Clark et al., 2010; US Department of Health and Human Services, 2000).

Each SFL course has downloadable slides and speaker notes for faculty use as well as online assignments for students. Course 2, Child Oral Health, covers early childhood caries (ECC) recognition, assessment and prevention, common pediatric concerns, and influences on oral health. Faculty can either present the material in class or have students complete the online course and hand in a certificate of completion. SFL also has a downloadable app for use in the clinical area for quick reference.

This February, why not take oral health activities into your preschool clinical? The Learning Activities available through ACE.P are fun for students, staff, and children. Engaging young children in group discussions about teeth, why we have teeth, what teeth do, and how to keep them clean is an entertaining way for preschoolers to learn about oral health. Include a hand-held mirror for children to look at their own teeth and have them draw a picture of their smile. Bring along a toothbrush and a tooth model to demonstrate how to brush teeth. If toothbrushes and toothpaste are available, or if you have a generous donor, you can have students demonstrate and practice brushing their own teeth.

Include preschool staff in your oral health education in order to make oral health a sustainable program. Nursing students can present an oral health topic, such as causes of ECC, the importance of healthy snacks, or tooth brushing techniques to staff at meetings or informal sessions. Students can discuss ways for staff to use this information to make changes to promote oral health.

Don’t forget about the parents and caregivers – this message needs to be taken home!  Determine how the school communicates with parents (e.g., social media, print materials, email blasts) and have students prepare an oral health topic such as fluoride, causes of ECC, tooth brushing, or nutrition to be included in the school’s communication. Students can also make posters, brochures, or pamphlets about oral health topics. A wonderful project for students is a dental home scavenger hunt. Students locate dentists in the area who will accept children with Medicaid and make a list of these dental homes for parents and staff. However you approach the challenge, let February be the start of making oral health a part of overall health for children.



Clark, M. B., Douglass, A. B., Maier, R., Deutchman, M., Douglass J. M., Gonsalves W., …& Quinonez,   R. (2010). Smiles for Life: A national oral health curriculum (3rd ed.).  Society of Teachers  of Family Medicine. Retrieved from

Haber, J., Hartnett, E., Allen, K., Hallas, D., Dorsen, C., Lange-Kessler, J., … Wholihan, D.(2015). Putting the mouth back in the head: HEENT to HEENOT. American Journal of    Public Health, 105(3), 437–41. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2014.302495

US Department of Health and Human Services. (2000). Oral health in America: A report of the surgeon general. Rockville: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National  Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from




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