News feature: Children are our future
 

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News feature: Children are our future

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News feature: Children are our future

 

News feature: Children are our future

Having gone through the traumas of the ‘wet the toothbrush under the tap and put it back in the mug without brushing' moments, the ‘I'll only do it if it's Barbie pink' obsession and the ‘sweets and biscuit-treating grandma' scenarios, Sara and Mike Reece are well-equipped to understand the frustrations of parents who have toothbrush-reluctant children.

In August 2007, the husband and wife team opened their third dental practice – Reece Associates Dental Care Solutions – and, with it, the pilot site for the Smilescool programme, a new approach to preventive dentistry for children.

"This is a highly innovative project that we are confident will help towards positive progress in children's oral health" - Dr Nigel Carter

The initial idea was Mike's, 52, who qualified from Guy's in 1980. Sara, 43, qualified from Guy's as a registered general nurse in 1986. She's the practice partner and Smilescool's CEO.

Sara explains: ‘It was borne out of his frustration that, after 23 years, nothing had really changed in the way we approach the delivery of the care of children in general practice i.e. in the main, we still wait until something goes wrong before we fix it. We do nothing to address the fact that both tooth decay and gum disease are preventable and that someone, sometime has to take a longer view and ensure children are empowered to be proactive by knowing exactly “how and what” they need to do to keep their mouths healthy for life. Being told to clean “more”, clean “better” and “not eat sweets” really doesn't hack it. Mike was – and is – determined to leave some kind of legacy that will move forward the experience of dentistry and the lifelong outcomes with regard to improved oral – and general – health for today's children.

She explains: ‘At a time in our careers when most of our peers are feeling that they've “made their mark” – and as a result are looking to coast gently towards retirement – Mike and I decided to undertake the biggest challenge of our careers to date.'

With two mixed NHS/private dental practices and two nursery schools, they decided to embrace the concept of their new-style practice to be used as the base and launch pad for the visionary approach to delivering children's dentistry – Smilescool.

At the heart of the practice, in Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, is the dedicated Smilescool children's waiting-area that boasts computers and seating set knee-high to an adult, a range of dental health education books and their centre for positive oral development (POD), designed as a non-clinical environment to help children grow familiar with the sights, sounds and ‘strange people' associated with dentistry.

Sara says: ‘By including a specific children's area within a general practice setting, we've tried to ensure that children, parents, grandparents, etc can use the same premises and most of the same personnel. Smilescool is designed to combat or reverse any existing fear of “a trip to the dentist”, teach parents and children to understand how tooth decay and gum disease develop and, most importantly, the skills necessary for their prevention.

‘We recognise that preventive and educational childhood dental care has not always been seen as a priority and, by the time some children see a dentist, problems of decay and bad hygiene habits have already formed. We have provided a system for educating children and parents while encouraging practise and evaluation of their skills on an on-going basis. Smilescool moves away from the reactionary system of waiting for a problem to develop before intervening with repair – we teach that prevention is better than cure. Our goal is to help children enjoy looking after their teeth, teach, empower and motivate them with the skills necessary to do it and instil lifelong habits at the earliest age possible.'

At Smilescool, the team teaches life skills and methods to practise, and assesses each child's oral cleansing techniques and skills. They dreamed up a measureable and quantifiable solution called M.I.K.E.S (Motivational Index for Kids Education Scoring) system – ‘and it's not a coincidence that the acronym happens to be my husband's name,' Sara jokes. Children may join Smilescool from birth – and by the time they reach the age of three each member will visit the practice for 90 minutes, three times a year.

During each session, the children are given all of the tools to assist them at home which includes:
• support information
• a pen torch
• mouth mirror
• disclosing tablets
• a score sheet
• wall chart
• scoring stickers.

Smilescool can even benefit nursing mums.  Sara explains: ‘Smilescool can provide an invaluable social network and can be the first point of contact for mums. We offer advice, assistance, tips and information both for pregnant and nursing mums and their babies and toddlers. You name it, we're there – from explaining the importance of vigilant gum care during pregnancy, to teething and weaning, advising on the problems of thumb and dummy sucking to the solutions for oral thrush.'

The concept for Smilescool has attracted interest from across the sector and within the media. The Smilescool programme has received endorsement and recognition from the British Dental Health Foundation (BDHF), Birmingham Dental Hospital, and the practice has developed working partnerships with both Aquafresh and DPAS. Smilescool is now being rolled out across the UK in the form of affiliation.

Final word
BDHF chief executive Dr Nigel Carter says: ‘The Foundation is delighted to be working with Smilescool, whose system will assist the important change to a new emphasis on preventive dental care. Providing a fun environment and educating children in dental hygiene habits will also help transform the image of a trip to the dentist. This is a highly innovative project that we are confident will help towards positive progress in children's oral health.'

With regards to expansion into Europe and possibly, worldwide, Sara says: ‘We'll have to watch this space! However, I can report that we have already had an enquiry from Salt Lake City.'

Fees start at £4.50 per month and go up to £15.73 per month. Practice owners interested in finding out more about Smilescool can visit www.smilescool.co.uk

How Smilescool works
•    Attendance is encouraged from birth/six months
•    Children enrol for a 12-month period into groups with children of their own age
•    From 3-4yrs of age, attendance is three times a year for 90 minutes each session
•    Makes use of all DCP team's skills and knowledge, not just relying on ‘the dentist'
•    Non clinical (Centre for Positive Oral Development) as well as clinical environment is provided – promotes orientation, familiarisation, continuity, trust, acceptance and enjoyment
•    Programme includes care, treatment and educational content
•    Large range of purpose-designed/age-specific educational/practice/support materials are provided
• System designed to facilitate practice and weekly monitoring of oral cleaning technique skill development at home
•    Reward system


 Posted on : Wed 12th - Aug - 2009

 

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