Oral Health Instructional Needs of Ohio Elementary Educators

Article excerpt

Elementary schools provide an ideal site for educating children about oral disease prevention and health promotion. Schools can influence children's oral health by helping them understand the importance of proper oral hygiene and by reinforcing positive attitudes and behavior toward oral health. (1,2) As a result, health choices in later years can be influenced. In addition, oral health education programs can be made available to all children, including those who may not have access to information provided during regular dental visits. (3)

Unfortunately, findings from several statewide surveys suggest teachers' knowledge about oral health and current methods of prevention are incomplete or inaccurate. (3-5) Curricula frequently are not comprehensive and target only one or two grade levels. Curricula may be outdated, contain age-inappropriate lessons, or emphasize "traditional" methods of preventing tooth decay rather than scientifically proven methods. For example, toothbrushing and flossing have been emphasized as the primary means of preventing tooth decay. However, use of fluorides and dental sealants has been shown more effective against the type of tooth decay experienced by children today. (6)


The Ohio Dept. of Health's Bureau of Dental Health is the state agency responsible for providing accurate oral health education information to school personnel and encouraging classroom instruction in the prevention of oral diseases. In April and May 1988, the Bureau conducted a survey of school personnel to determine the need for, and content of, an oral health education instructional guide for elementary schoolchildren. Survey objectives were: to determine the types of oral health education curricula currently used, to determine the oral health concepts being taught and the priority placed on each concept by educators, and to determine the desired components of an instructional guide.

A pretested, 17-item questionnaire was mailed to a stratified random sample of 240 teachers, 92 school nurses, and 92 curriculum coordinators. The sample was selected from 100 schools in 92 school districts to be representative of Ohio in geographical location (urban vs. rural), number of students enrolled in each district, and proportion of schools/districts in each of the five regions in the state. A second mailing was sent to nonrespondents after three weeks. Survey data were entered into a data base management program designed by the Ohio Dept. of Health.

Questionnaires were completed by 63 curriculum coordinators, 73 school nurses, and 214 teachers; the overall response rate was 75%. More than two-thirds of respondents indicated they currently teach oral health in their class/school, with 46%0 using educational materials designed by Proctor & Gamble or Colgate-Palmolive. Of respondents who reported they do not currently have or use an oral health education curriculum or materials, 28% cited financial limitations on purchasing as the reason. Seventy-two percent of school personnel expressed a desire to have a new oral health education instructional guide beyond what is currently available; 26% of respondents indicated that having such a guide was a high priority.

At least 55% of respondents indicated they taught all 11 oral health concepts listed as options in the questionnaire, except for one: dental sealants (Table 1), which reportedly was taught by only 19% of respondents. Not surprisingly, reported teaching of a concept was associated with the priority school staff placed on that concept. For example, all concepts were rated as having a medium to high priority except dental sealants, which was rated highly by only 9% of school personnel. Conversely, toothbrushing and flossing were taught by 98% of respondents, with 89% indicating it as a high priority.

School staff indicated a preference for creative instructional strategies such as hands-on activities and demonstrations, models, dittos/transparencies, and audiovisuals. …