Dental students create oral care video for caretakers of pediatric ventilator patients

For two students in East Carolina University’s School of Dental Medicine, a passion for serving patients who need special care shines through action and advocacy.

Lydia Hartung and Hope Anne Elias, both third-year dental students, have put together an oral health care instructional video for caretakers and health care providers of pediatric patients on long-term ventilators at the RHA Howell Center-Tar River in Greenville.

Third-year dental students Hope Anne Elias, left, and Lydia Hartung are working with the Howell Center in Greenville to educate caretakers and family members on how to provide oral care to pediatric ventilator patients. (ECU photos)

The Howell Center is an immediate care residential facility that serves medically fragile patients, including infants and children who may require around-the-clock nursing and respiratory care.

The students’ video offers detailed information on how to brush teeth and provide additional preventive oral care to pediatric patients on ventilators. Hartung and Elias are working on the outreach project under the mentorship of dental faculty Dr. Sukyung Moon, clinical assistant professor in special care dentistry; Dr. Michael Webb, chair, Department of Pediatric Dentistry, Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics; and Dr. Mark Moss, division director of public health dentistry, among others.

The purpose of the video itself is to show it to not only caregivers at the center whenever they’re onboarding,” Hartung said, “but also potentially to families to educate them on the best, safest, most efficient way to handle the oral care of their loved one.

The idea for the project stemmed from Hartung’s and Elias’s personal passion for serving people with special care needs.

I’ve had a lot of people in my family and in my life who have really touched my life that would be special care patients,” Hartung said. “I feel like special care goes beyond intellectual and developmental disabilities. There’s a lot of different patients that would fall into this category, and I feel like it’s a very underrepresented group of people not only in our community, but especially in medicine.”

Hartung said she felt called to take some kind of action to help special populations of patients.

“I feel a very, very strong draw to be a part of that advocacy,” she said, “and be a voice for these people who unfortunately a lot of times can’t speak for themselves and can’t advocate for what they need, especially whenever it comes to medicine.”

Elias said the project contributes to solutions to challenges that should not be factors in accessing care.

“There’s a huge percentage of the population that needs special care, and they deserve to have their needs met,” she said. “Just being here in Greenville has really inspired me. I really want to help make a change, and I feel like dentistry is a good way to do it.”

Moon said guiding the students through the video project is an important part of educating students to be advocates for patients and work toward positive change.

The instructional video includes proper brushing technique for pediatric patients and highlights the importance of routine dental care and practices.

“Supporting this kind of research is very meaningful as an educational institution,” she said. “As dentists, these students will be more involved and help raise awareness.”

The students and faculty members visited the Howell Center early in the project, to observe how the center runs and decide how they could best contribute.

“We got acquainted with the building and built some relationships, loving the kids as much as possible from a distance,” Hartung said. “We did an initial visit with Dr. Moon, where we kind of shadowed in the background. We wanted to see what the patients’ current oral health care routine looked like, and we collectively discussed our findings and figured out how we could take what they know and improve on that to get their routines at an optimal level.”

The students created a screenplay and sought feedback from faculty before videoing the tools and items needed as well as ideal oral health care strategies and demonstrations. They hope to advance to sharing in-person demonstrations of the techniques and gather research data on general knowledge and attitudes toward oral health care to gauge how to best share information in the future.

“I’d love to see this spread to more facilities,” Hartung said.

Both Hartung and Elias are leaders in the School of Dental Medicine’s chapter of the Special Care in Dentistry Association (SCDA). The chapter is one of only 11 recognized nationally through SCDA, which is made up of oral health professionals and students who are dedicated to promoting oral health and well-being for people with special needs. The organization includes representatives from the American Association of Hospital Dentists, the Academy of Dentistry for Persons with Disabilities, and the American Society for Geriatric Dentistry.

“I would love to see on our executive board next year have a specific leadership role that is in charge of making sure that this project and the visits are on through years to come,” Hartung said.Special care is so interdisciplinary that I feel like we need everyone to be actively involved and aware of the community that is in Pitt County.”

The students hope the video project and the SCDA chapter can be a part of the school’s broader efforts to expand resources for patients with special needs.

Hopefully as we grow as a club and as we grow in the medical field, we can close that gap and find more advocacy for these patients,” Hartung said, “and through our faculty, be inspired to do more things like this.”