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Dental student founds oral health education program, receives award

May 21, 2012

By Stacie Crozier, ADA News staff

Denver—Laci Rector is a second-year dental student at the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine, but she isn’t waiting until after graduation to make a difference in the oral health of residents in eastern Colorado where she grew up.

Rural program: Dental student Laci Rector demonstrates toothbrushing skills to fourth-graders at Byers Elementary School in Byers, Colo., as part of the Rural Smile pilot program she developed. Ms. Rector received the National Rural Health Association Student Leadership Award last month for developing the education program.

Ms. Rector received the National Rural Health Association Student Leadership Award last month for developing Rural Smiles, an oral health education program that she launched at Byers Elementary School in Byers, Colo.

The Coloradan said she started the pilot project in her first year of dental school, examining the Denver school system oral health education curriculum models and fine-tuning hers to be better suited to rural students.

“I wanted to include all 276 children from pre-K through sixth grade so the program would reach every elementary school student,” she said.

She has logged more than 100 hours in developing the lesson plans, selecting and coordinating with the pilot program school and reaching out to dental product distributors for donations of supplies for student participants.

“I think 100 hours is a low estimate,” she said. “There was a lot of time spent that I didn’t record, most of it early on. But now it takes less time per week now that it’s in the groove.”

The lesson plans feature 45-minute interactive age-appropriate sessions that break classes into small groups.

The groups rotate through short lessons on topics like brushing, flossing, healthy habits, visiting the dentist and even get a chance to participate in short science experiments. Each child also receives a toothbrush, toothpaste, dental health information for the whole family and a list of nearby dental clinics where children could seek any needed dental care.

“The lessons are different for different age groups,” said Ms. Rector. “You can’t really focus on flossing with first-graders, for instance, because they are still learning about how to brush.”

The school gave her use of a large meeting room so that setup would be easier. When the one-year pilot program is done, she added, the teachers at Byers Elementary School can continue to use the lesson plans and activity ideas as Ms. Rector takes the program to another school.

“I have learned a lot from this experience,” she said. “I learned that you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for something because the worst thing that can happen is that the answer is no. The answer is always no until you ask.

“I want to practice in a rural area after I graduate because I grew up in a small town and I like the laid back lifestyle, relaxed pace and personal relationships,” she added. “You can really get to know people and build strong relationships.”

Ms. Rector was honored at the NRHA’s 35th annual Rural Health Conference April 19 in Denver.

For more information on the NRHA, visit