While preparing for her own future, second-year dental student Brianna Chavis-Locklear is also interested in the future of the children at Prospect Elementary School in rural Robeson County, North Carolina. Brianna is an alumna of the school, which serves nearly 1,000 children from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade and is the heart and soul of the community. Ninety-six percent of the children at Prospect are of Lumbee Indian descent.
Brianna, also a member of the Lumbee Tribe and a student member of the Society of American Indian Dentists, took the lead in organizing a presentation called Lessons in a Lunch Box: Healthy Teeth Essentials & Facts About Snacks on January 10 for 220 second and third graders, teachers, and staff at the school located in Maxton, N.C.
Ten of Brianna’s classmates joined her in the presentation as did Dr. Loren Alves, a member of the ECU pediatric dentistry faculty, Dr. Winifred J. Booker and Chiquita Veney of The Children’s Oral Health Institute in Maryland, and students from Fayetteville Technical Community College and UNC-Pembroke.
Lessons in a Lunch Box was developed by Winifred Booker, DDS, to give dental students across the country a formalized program for delivering oral hygiene instruction to children. Children leave the presentation with their own tools for fighting cavities and for teaching their friends and families about oral health and nutrition.
The dental students demonstrated proper flossing and brushing techniques using puppets and oversized dentures. They also showed videos on flossing and brushing that featured the Charlie Brown gang and were commissioned by the American Dental Association.
The students said that dentists want children to take good care of their teeth so they can “learn and study and sing without pain and suffering from a toothache.”
The children were asked to raise their hand if they had ever had a “sick” tooth. A majority of the children raised a hand.
At the end of the presentation, each child was given a bright orange lunch box containing a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, and mirror inside a clever orange carrot case. The lunch box also includes instructions in English and Spanish on flossing and brushing and gives the website for the USDA’s ChooseMyPlate.gov nutrition guidelines.
Brianna had more than one objective in organizing the presentation. First and foremost, she wanted to give back to the school and community that gave her so much in her formative years.
“Also,” she said, “the school is predominantly made up of Lumbee Indian children, which is an underserved population in North Carolina. So, a need for a program like Lessons in a Lunch Box is evident in the area. I also wanted to create a dental related volunteer opportunity for students at UNC-Pembroke and Fayetteville Technical Community College.”
Prospect Elementary School Principal Jonathan Blue is also of Lumbee descent and a lifelong resident of Robeson County. He knows the families in his school district very well, and Brianna and her family are not exceptions. “I’m very proud of Brianna for what she is achieving and for giving back to our community.” he said.
When introducing the presenters, Mr. Blue gestured toward the dental students and told the children that they could be the ones dressed in doctor coats someday.
“I like the motto, ‘You can get anywhere from here,’” he said, “and I say it to our kids all the time. I want them to know they can be dentists or whatever they want to be.”
Dr. Booker, who is the CEO of The Children’s Oral Health Institute and president of the Society of American Indian Dentists (SAID), traveled from Maryland to play an active role in the presentation along with the Institute’s program director, Chiquita Veney.
Dr. Booker said, “We are so pleased that a student dentist like Brianna would have the commitment to community to introduce Lessons in a Lunch Box at the elementary school she attended as a child. This is truly a daughter coming home. The members of her class are also to be commended for their willingness to support oral health education for elementary school students.”
Dr. Loren Alves said, “The ECU School of Dental Medicine realizes that Robeson County is in serious need of dentists. That’s why the school established a community service learning center in Lumberton and why programs like Lessons in a Lunch Box are so important to allow these elementary students to also see what they can be someday.”
A January press release from The Children’s Oral Health Institute stated that 35 dental schools across the United States have registered to present Lessons in a Lunch Box in 2018 as part of their outreach programs and that over 55,000 lunchboxes will be placed in the hands of school children and their classrooms and ultimately into their homes and communities.
Lessons in a Lunch Box has an impressive list of corporate sponsors including the American Dental Association, Colgate, Crest, and Henry Schein to name a few. The Society of American Indian Dentists sponsored the shipment of lunch boxes to Prospect Elementary School. More information on The Children’s Oral Health Institute is available at www.mycohi.org.
As fourth-year dental students, Brianna and her classmates will gain hands-on clinical experience treating patients at ECU School of Dental Medicine Community Service Learning Centers in eight rural communities across North Carolina, including the center at 600 Country Club Road in Lumberton, N.C.