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HealthWorks museums offer kids hands-on oral health education

Tupelo, Miss.—North Mississippi (First District Dental Society) dental professionals raised $100,000 to support a local children’s health museum whose mission is to “infect” kids with good oral and overall health education and messages.

Image: The HealthWorks in South Bend, Ind., features a Hummer outfitted with a traveling exhibit.
On the road: The HealthWorks in South Bend, Ind., features a Hummer outfitted with a traveling exhibit.
Dentists wanted to make sure that the children who visit the HealthWorks health education center learn the importance of brushing and flossing, so they launched a fundraising campaign to develop a dental health exhibit for the 18,000-square-foot facility. Children can explore, play and learn at the museum’s hands-on Big Mouth exhibit. The Tupelo facility has hosted nearly 70,000 visitors in the past 2-1/2 years.

“This was a unique opportunity,” said Dr. J. Leland Chrisman, who led the fundraising drive. “It was a well thought-out project. HealthWorks had done quite a bit of research on how to be successful and how to reach students. Our fundraising drive started at the beginning of the economic downturn, so their practices’ patient flow maybe was beginning to decrease, but all the donors were still very willing to give.”

HealthWorks was designed to enhance the health, physical education and science curricula for area schools and to show kids how to have a healthier lifestyle. Its purpose is to “infectiously contaminate kids of all ages, everywhere, to learn, have fun and make great life choices.”

The Tupelo center opened through a partnership between Memorial Health System and North Mississippi Medical Center. It’s the second brick-and-mortar museum and the sister facility to the original HealthWorks museum in South Bend, Ind.

Though some 500 miles apart, both locations feature a variety of interactive exhibits designed to teach children about how to be healthy. Quirky exhibits and interactive, fun-filled programs and exhibits cover a wide range of health and well-being issues including personal hygiene, good nutrition and the digestive system, exercise, anatomy and physiology, hazards of smoking, puberty, conflict resolution (South Bend facility), self-esteem and much more.

Image: The HealthWorks museum in Tupelo offers a colorful atmosphere that encourages children to learn good health habits.
Tupelo hot spot: The HealthWorks museum in Tupelo offers a colorful atmosphere that encourages children to learn good health habits.
Local schools and community groups can schedule customized field trips or families can plan celebrations and birthday parties at the museums.

“Our hope is that HealthWorks will help change the mindset of children in this region,” Dr. Chrisman said. “Maybe it can affect life changes and make children think more clearly about the choices they make. This is an ongoing effort to promote physical and dental health with a strong focus on research and recording results.”

Since the South Bend area is home to the auto plant that makes Humvee and Hummer vehicles for military use, the HealthWorks museum has both an on-site dental exhibit and a traveling exhibit housed in a Hummer.

In South Bend, kids who visit the HealthWorks museum don dental lab coats and visit the interactive oral health exhibit that includes a dental chair, big teeth and toothbrushes, an X-ray light and some radiographs. They can also sit on giant tooth stools to listen to oral health messages. During outreach visits via the HealthWorks Hummer, kids can use giant toothbrushes to clean the toothy smile mounted on the vehicle’s grill.

“We see over 50,000 children a year at the South Bend HealthWorks through field trips, outreach and special programs,” said Jacqueline Simmons, whose title at HealthWorks is “conductor of creative chaos.” “The Hummer has been seen and requested so many times. If you count parades, more than 100,000 have seen it. We do community events all over and the Hummer visits with lots of children at those venues.”

For more information on HealthWorks, visit the website: http://healthworkskids.org.

Image: Dental professionals who participated in the fundraising campaign for the Tupelo HealthWorks museum
Fundraisers: Dental professionals who participated in the fundraising campaign for the Tupelo HealthWorks museum include, front row from left: Drs. Kenneth Johnson, Harry Rayburn and Brad Roberts; and back row: Drs. Kevin Holman, Dan Kellum, Charles Wikle, Edward Holliday, Frank Hodges, Danny Dickey, Brett Hildenbrand, Leland Chrisman and Will West.