Somchanh Vongsoury remembers when two people visited her southeast Portland grade school years ago and taught her class the right way to brush their teeth. That memory stayed with the Oregon Health & Science University dental hygiene student. She even wrote about the experience on her application to the dental hygiene program.
This year she lived her memory. Vongsoury, with two other senior dental hygiene students, Shantel Robinson and Thuytien Nguyen, all from the OHSU School of Dentistry, returned to Buckman Elementary to teach another generation of second-graders about good dental health. Multnomah County School and Community Dental Health Program provided added assistance.
"I feel like I am completing the circle. I am going back and giving back," Vongsoury, 22, a Milwaukie resident, said.
It was her idea to provide oral hygiene instruction as part of their senior project to the Buckman students. Robinson's part of the project is on cavity prevention and nutrition; Nguyen's portion concerns the dental problems of children and the rate of cavity formation; and Vongsoury's part is to implement their findings.
Buckman was a natural choice for their project. Buckman teachers had been looking for a dental partner. "Our community had identified dental hygiene for our students as a critical need. OHSU stepped up to the plate in a wonderful way," said Diane Meisenhelter, Buckman School Unit Neighborhood coordinator.
Vongsoury, Robinson and Nguyen worked in small groups with about 100 students, showing them how to brush their teeth properly and how their parents can help. They showed the children a video on sealants. They explained plaque. They told the class that cavities are made by bugs.
As part of the program, the Buckman students are scheduled Friday, Dec. 7 to come to OHSU's dental clinic to have sealants put on their teeth to protect against cavities. After that, the dental hygiene students plan to return to Buckman Friday, Dec. 14 for further instruction.
Besides the young students learning about good dental care, the OHSU students learned some lessons also.
"Teaching kids was a new experience for us. We learned that hands-on instruction and giving out prizes works best. I had to put myself in their position and use words so that they could understand. I learned to have patience and flexibility. I really enjoyed helping them," Vongsoury said.
"This was my first time interacting with American students," said Nguyen, 25, who came to this country six years ago from Vietnam. "I was really surprised at how well the second-graders responded. The students are very outgoing for second-graders," she said.
Robinson, 41, said she learned that it is important to relate to the children on their level.
"I realized that children at that age are very social, and that friends are important to them. So, I told them their teeth are their friends. If they take care of these friends, then they will take care of them all their life," Robinson, said.
She said the experience was rewarding.
"Their minds at this stage are like cultivating fresh ground with no weeds in it. Whatever you plant, it'll grow. I hope that what we taught will stick in their minds forever," Robinson said.