USC University of Southern California

Students Photos and Essays Show Impact of DOC Program

By Jennifer Teng

In 1993, junior dental student Adel Tawflis began the USC School of Dentistry’s Doctors Out to Care program in order to “integrate the School of Dentistry with metropolitan schools; to enhance oral health awareness; and generate awareness of dentistry as a profession in local communities”. Proving to be a greatly successful and rewarding program to both the community and the dental students, the USC Dental School has incorporated the DOC program as part of the freshman curriculum. 

The DOC program currently places freshman dental students in USC Neighborhood elementary schools where they interact with first and second graders. Using various interactive activities, dental students create their own programs based on the NIH developed curriculum to educate the children about tooth friendly foods and proper dental hygiene.

Jennifer Holtzman, director of the DOC program, said the program allows the dental students to be creative as well as gives the students a better understanding of the complexity of factors that determine oral health.  Interaction with the children also enlightens students to various environmental and cultural issues that surround the children.  Many dental students were previously unaware of some of the limitations placed on the children such as access to toothbrushes, healthy diets, and access to dental care, and the DOC program opens their eyes to many of these issues, she said.

As for the children of the community, “They love the dental students,” said Holtzman. 

The DOC program’s long-term goals are to increase awareness about oral health not only among the children but also within their families and perhaps even encourage children to seek careers in health. Holtzman said she hopes that over time, DOC will begin to affect the culture of the community so that in the future, families will make healthy choices to promote healthy teeth.

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Bridger Dean Jensen

I love how this photo captures the children’s interest in oral health care. When we started attend classes we would begin asking the children questions. My favorite was, “how long will you have your (adult) teeth.” “Five years would yell a kid from the back row,” “No,” I would say and another answer would be shouted out ranging from a few months to “an hundred years.” The children really seemed to listen when I explained that the teeth that they had coming in they would have for the rest of their lives or “forever” as they liked to say. I would then ask them to explain how they took care of things they would have the rest of their lives. I could tell for some of the children that because we have our teeth forever we must take good care of them. Over our four weeks I loved to see these children grow and progress in oral health care. I gauge from the level of answers that first day there is a lot of confusion about how and why to take care of your teeth, and on the last day these children understood how important oral health is.

Personally I also gained much from this experience. I have had some experience with younger children as I am the oldest of four. However with these kids I was not a big brother or a friend but a professional. These kids developed a true love for us, and made me feel appreciated as a health care professional.   I would walk into class and say “hello to all of my scientist friends” I tried to Treat these children as scientists exploring our oral cavity. One of my favorite quotes is. “Treat a man as he appears to be, and you make him worse. But treat a man as if he were what he potentially could be, and you make him what he should be.” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe) These children grasped their role as scientists and I hope that they always think of themselves as such.

Thank you for all the work you went to, to make this experience possible for me and for these children.

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Emily Eisele

This photo represents my hope and intentions that I had for the DOC program, which was to get the students involved and excited about their personal dental hygiene.  Our students at Alexander Science Charter Middle School showed us enthusiasm and excitement for our lesson plans. They answered our questions, drew pictures of how caries form, and listened to us as we instructed how to properly brush their teeth.  But my favorite photo that will remind me of the DOC program was this photo.  Cesar and Ricardo, both 3rd graders, are in this photo exhibit the interaction that we witnessed between our students, where they turned to each other to show their engagement and excitement about our lessons.  These two students are showing each other their teeth after disclosing.  They grinned at each other while laughing at their purple-stained teeth.  They both pointed out areas where they saw dark purple areas where the plaque collected.  For me, this photo captures the moment when the students started to take the initiative in comparing their oral hygiene habits, while having fun, without our instruction.  While the DOC program teaches students how to brush and floss, we have a limited time with them.  Our ultimate goal is to have the students continue with brushing and flossing and to see them excited about their teeth encourages me that they will continue to take an active role in their oral hygiene throughout their life.

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Kamran Dastoury Pictorial Summary 

The main goal of our third visit to the classroom was actively instruct the kids on proper oral hygiene. Keeping the age of our audience in mind, we thought it would be appropriate to use the “show one, teach one, and do one technique”. We first showed them exactly what a full session of brushing consists of from beginning to end. Then we broke down the steps individually. Lastly, we enabled the kids to apply what they learned on them selves while members of the group walked around and corrected each student.

The picture above is a powerful image showing how much impact can be made on a child when we make time for our children in the community. Since dental issues are the number one reason for child absences from school, emphasis within the school curriculum to help inform the student’s awareness of their oral health is more than necessary. Education should not only be based around academics, I believe healthy life lessons learned at an early age are essential for producing a well rounded individual. In regards to oral hygiene, it was apparent that many of these kids were defiantly not going to receive this type of information at home from their parents. If we are going to make any impact on this epidemic of caries disease, it is imperative that we begin teaching healthy habits to the children first.

I was amazed to see how attentive these kids were to the information we were giving them even at this early age. Taking time with each child and teaching them a skill that they will be using the rest of their lives was very fulfilling for me personally. I believe these kids will remember certain piece of information them that day anytime they go to brush their teeth. I mean if someone made me properly brush the teeth of a flying purple dragon at the age of 5, I would definitely think happy thoughts when ever I touched a toothbrush. The positive associations made in the mind of these kids were absolutely priceless.  

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Kai Chu Liang

Rodrigo is one of the kids in the second grade class that we did our DOC program.  I remember the first day when we walked into the class, he had a big smile on his face and I can tell he was really excited about us being there.  During our first visit, he showed me how much movement there was in his maxillary left central incisor, he even asked me why did it do that.  He was happy to hear that because he is becoming a big boy and the permanent teeth are starting to come out to replace his baby teeth.  He was always so eager to answer our questions and participate in our activities.

I think I have learned a lot during our four sessions for the DOC program.  Even though we do not know a lot about dentistry yet, these kids think of us as doctors and look up to us.  Throughout this whole experience, I realized how important we are in the society.  We are expected to be able to provide the best possible treatment to our patients, but at the same time to give back to the community.  As a kid in Taiwan, I was not exposed to the dentistry until I was around 5th grade, and that was going to the dentist because I had caries that was just hurting so much.  I did not know why I had caries, I just knew I have to brush twice a day because my parents told me so.  As a group, we were able to came up with lesson plans to teach these the many important aspects about keeping a good oral health.  Our kids went from not knowing a lot about oral health to knowing what kind of food are bad for your health.  Some of the kids went from not brush their teeth to knowing what is the proper technique to brushing teeth.  Overall, I really like this whole experience, I thought this is a really good program in giving back to the community.