Developing an age-appropriate dental care programme for preschool children
Kitching, Marilize Mabel
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Children's oral health is an important but often overlooked component of overall health. Tooth decay therefore remains a common phenomenon among children. It is however entirely preventable through early and sustained intervention. The aim of this research was to develop an age-appropriate programme to enhance children's knowledge and awareness of proper dental care. Action research was applied in this research, which was characterized by various cyclical research phases, including planning, reflecting and implementing. The initial phase of the research included a thorough literature investigation and a baseline assessment, consisting of a questionnaire which assessed preschool children's basic knowledge and awareness of proper dental care. Purposive sampling was used to select 52 Afrikaans-speaking children, between the ages of five and seven years, of different preschools. This age group was chosen because children in this developmental phase are at an age where their activity, curiosity and ability to construct a better system for understanding the world, are key to the process of development. The data obtained indicated a moderate level of knowledge and awareness among the participating children. The initial literature study and the baseline data informed the development of an age-appropriate dental care programme, according to Piaget's theory of cognitive development. The different developmental tasks of the identified age group were considered to be very important in the development of an age-appropriate programme and to teach children the basic aspects of proper dental care by using information and activities that are stimulating, creative and challenging. The programme focuses on basic aspects of proper dental care, including the healthy tooth, loss of primary teeth, the importance of primary teeth and development of permanent teeth, the process of tooth decay, diet, different ways of caring for teeth, and visiting the dentist. Parent involvement was also emphasized in the presentation of the programme. Specialist practitioners in the fields of developmental psychology and dentistry were asked to evaluate the newly developed programme. They were asked to focus on four specific areas, namely, general feedback on the questionnaire that was used for the initial baseline assessment, the overall appearance and presentation of the dental care programme, the relevance and appropriateness of the programme and its activities for the specific age group, and suggestions for further adjustments and improvements. Programme evaluation is an important part of the developmental process and contributes to the eventual appropriate and relevance of the intervention. The specialists' evaluation indicated that the programme appears to be a well-designed intervention that could contribute to enhancing preschool children's knowledge and awareness of proper dental care. Suggestions were made to adjust the programme in certain areas to make it more appealing to children and to enhance its appropriateness and relevance. For example it was suggested that the language used in the programme be more consistent. More structure should be added to the programme manual to assist facilitators in presenting it. These suggestions were considered to be valuable in improving the efficacy of the age-appropriate programme and the adjustments were made.
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