East River Child Development Center
570 Grand Street
New York, NY 10002

The East River Child Development Center is a non-profit, family centered, community-based preschool program. They offer educational and therapeutic services to children with special needs between the ages of 2 and 5 pursuant to Section 4410 of the education law. Some of the special needs services that they provide are specialized instruction, speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, counseling, assistive technology and parent education.

As part of our coursework in public health, the students were divided into groups and instructed to choose a community-based center (nursing home, hospital, daycare, etc.) in which to develop and present a structured oral hygiene lesson. Our group chose a center for developmentally disabled children based on their need and lack of access to dental health care options. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1 in 5 households in the U.S. have at least one child with a special health care need. Many general dentists don’t treat children with special needs and this makes it very challenging for parents and caregivers to find a dentist to care for their child. This may be one of the reasons that dental care is the leading unmet health care need among children with special needs, according to the National Maternal and Child Oral Health Resource Center.

The lesson plan that our public health group created was based on interactive learning since our audience was comprised of preschool-aged children. We taught toothbrushing, flossing and nutrition. During our post-project evaluation phase, we decided that it would have been beneficial to also host an educational seminar for the parents and caregivers of these children, to learn the barriers and challenges that they may face when providing oral health care at home. I thoroughly enjoyed working on this project and researching the dental health care needs of developmentally disabled children. Additionally, the center that we chose to present at had never had our students visit before. Since there were over 90 preschoolers in attendance, I was able to arrange for three other public health groups to also complete their service learning field project activity there. The center was very pleased and requested that the students return again next year.

View the lesson plan here:

View the complete service learning field project activity here:

We created a poster featuring cartoon images of brushing, flossing, healthy and unhealthy foods and a dental hygienist
Toothbrushing instruction featuring the “rule of 3.” There are 3 sides of the teeth to brush – the outside, inside and the tops. This little rule helps children to remember to brush all sides of the teeth.
Children learned to “floss” using pieces of yarn “floss” and plastic ice cube tray “teeth” filled with Play-Doh “germs.”
“Only use a little bit of toothpaste when you brush.”
At the end of the lesson, we sang a song about brushing and flossing and danced with the children.