'Keep our teeth'

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Alessandra N. Hurley
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
As a trio of colorful objects rotated in the air between the hands of a juggling dentist, children gathered together to learn how to combat cavity-causing bacteria and keep their teeth healthy.

In honor of National Children's Health Month, a team from the 28th Medical Operations Squadron led four special presentations at two Rapid City school assemblies, Feb. 3. This team was led by Dr. Juggles, also known as Capt. (Dr.) Bradley Harrelson, 28th MDOS deputy dental flight commander. Captain Harrelson was assisted by Staff Sgt. Kristen Pool, a dental hygienist who participated as a walking toothbrush, and Airman 1st Class Harrison Burkardt, a dental assistant who played a part in the presentation dressed as a tube of toothpaste.

The team used visual aids and an interactive approach to keep the children interested and help them learn the importance of dental hygiene.

"I juggle to capture their attention," he said. "Actively engaging and involving children in the learning process by alternating important messages with goofiness is a better way to help them remember what's being said."

Dr. Harrelson has been interacting with local children in outreach dental programs since 2009.

"We want the local community to know we are here to support and educate all students about the importance of oral health," he said. "It's important for children to learn how to care for their teeth when they're young. The good habits they develop now can set them up for healthy teeth and gums for the rest of their lives."

Easily preventable illnesses like periodontal disease can be avoided with dedicated care. Periodontal disease consists of inflammation and infections inside the mouth that affect the gums, tissues and ligaments that support the teeth and the tooth sockets.

"Treating disease is harder than preventing it," Dr. Harrelson said. "Once a person is infected with periodontal disease, the only thing we can do is contain the disease and keep it from spreading. A common misconception is that infections in baby teeth will go away when the new teeth come in. Existing infections, however, can also affect developing teeth."

One way Dr. Harrelson helps children remember to brush and floss regularly is by directing them in an activity where one child pretends to be a tooth and two more students pretend to be two cavity germs. The two children hold onto the arms of the child playing the tooth.

"When I ask the audience if the two children can be easily moved away from the child playing the tooth, they answer no because the children on the outside are holding on to the one in the middle, in much the same way cavity germs attach themselves to teeth," he said.

In this way, Dr. Harrelson is able to visually demonstrate for the children how brushing their teeth can eliminate germs inside their mouths.

"I explain to them that we all have cavity germs and we all have to be persistent with our oral care," he said. "We each fight a constant battle each day to keep the germs off of our teeth and I remind the children they need to stick with their dental care routine so they don't let the germs win."

While Dr. Harrelson emphasizes the need for daily brushing and flossing, he is also careful to make sure children remember to be gentle with their gums.

Dr. Harrelson said he enjoys working with children because he cares about the potential in every child. He hopes to help each one realize their potential by teaching them how to keep themselves healthy.

"Children are at the beginning of their lives, and there are so many possibilities ahead of them," he said. "I want to be a source of positivity by providing guidance, time and interest in their health and well-being."

The faculty and staff of Grandview Elementary School in Rapid City were among those who watched Dr. Harrelson's performance for the children.

"The Airmen did a great job of putting the show together," said Jeri Horan, Grandview Elementary faculty member. "That was a very energetic performance. It was also great because the skits and games will help the children remember what they've learned."