Tennessees Hands On Discovery Center adds oral health exhibit

Photo of Dr. Rachel Hymes and her family
Family: From left, Dr. Rachel Hymes, her kids Ticen and Elliott, and her husband Aaron Hymes pose for a photo in front the health smile exhibit at the Hands On! Discovery Center. Dr. Hymes was instrumental in the installation of the center’s first health exhibit. 
Gray, Tenn. — Dr. Rachel Hymes was visiting the Hands On! Discovery Center, an interactive science center for children, with her kids to explore exhibits on electricity, rockets and fossils, when she noticed something was missing.
“I realized there weren’t any health exhibits,” said Dr. Hymes, president of the First District Dental Society.

And just like that — like a light bulb lighting above her head — she  came up with a new idea: placing an exhibit dedicated to teaching kids how to take care of their teeth inside the Hands On! Discovery Center.

Dr. Hymes said she had already been thinking of how to reach and provide oral health education to more children, especially in the Appalachian area, which has the largest burden of oral health problems per capita in the United States, according to the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine.

“We all want to help educate as many children as possible on the importance of oral health,” she said. “So I started researching dental exhibits at children’s museums and what I needed to do to get one at our local museum.”

This idea came into fruition more than a year later with the Feb. 29 unveiling of the healthy smile exhibit, an interactive exhibit that helps kids learn about brushing and flossing, just in time for National Children’s Dental Health Month. The anatomically correct giant size set of teeth are a yellowish dingy color. But using an oversized toothbrush and floss for two minutes, the kids can clean the teeth and turn them pearly white and healthy.

The Hands On! Discovery Center hosts about 70,000 visitors a year, including students from 40 different school systems, touching four different states.

Photo of Elliott Hymes
Brush: Dr. Rachel Hymes’ son Elliott brushes the anatomically correct giant size set of teeth, which are a yellowish dingy color. But using an oversized toothbrush, kids can clean the teeth and turn them pearly white and healthy. 
The unveiling was the result of over a year of meeting with the center, fundraising with members of her dental society and working with local fabricators and designers.

Dr. Hymes met with the center’s staff in October 2018. Their main goal was to ensure the exhibit tied in with the other exhibits in the center.

“Everything has teeth, especially the dinosaurs, so of course we can tie it in,” Dr. Hymes said, laughing.

Dr. Hymes then met with the leadership of the First District Dental Society, which gave its full support to the idea, and she began fundraising in August 2019.

Ultimately, the exhibit would cost over $30,000 and was paid with a $15,000 donation from Delta Dental of Tennessee and generous donations from local dentists and dental society members.

“The dentists in the area really felt strongly about this exhibit and gave their full support,” she said.

The exhibit is guaranteed to be in the center for at least three years.

“Although I hope it will be such a big hit that they will keep it longer,” Dr. Hymes said.

For Dr. Hymes, the exhibit was a also a little personal. She remembers growing up in Greenville, South Carolina, and as a child visiting a local science center that had an exhibit where she learned how to brush and floss teeth.

“I was about 5 years old and we went two years in a row,” she said. “I credit that to where I began my interest in dentistry. I remember that exhibit, and I wanted to have my children to have one as well.”