Health Science Connection for Secondary & Post-Secondary Educators

The Area Health Education Center, Office of Public Instruction and Department of Public Health and Human Services have formed a partnership to achieve a healthier Montana by pursuing the goals and strategies described in the state health improvement plan and to build a public health and health care system that supports these goals. Join us as we highlight health priorities, careers in public health, and offer activities for the classroom to reinforce these goals. A healthy population is essential to a healthy economy. Let's build a healthier Montana together!

Oral Health Education - Oral Health Outreach and Activities with the Montana Area Health Center and Office of Rural Health


This fall, the Montana Office of Rural Health and Area Health Education Center is sponsoring an Oral Health Careers Presentation Program that is designed for high school students.  The goal of these dental careers presentations is to inform students of the wonderful opportunities that exist in the oral health care field and increase their interest in potentially pursuing one of these careers after high school. Across Montana there is a great need for oral health care professionals of all levels. These careers offer job stability, flexibility, and an opportunity to help others.


In the fall of 2013, we did the first round of presentations at the major Montana high schools. This fall we plan on traveling all over Montana! Fort Benton, Augusta, St. Ignatius, Noxon, Cut Bank, Glendive are just a few we have confirmed visits with. We would love to set up more visits and reach as many Montana students as possible, so if you are interested in our Oral Health Careers Presentation please call Sarah at 406-994-4403 or by email at


"Listen to the wisdom of the toothless ones." 

-  Fijian Proverb


Healthy People 2020 - Oral Health


The overall goal that is stated within Healthy People 2020 is "Prevent and control oral and craniofacial diseases, conditions, and injuries, and improve access to preventive services and dental care."

The efforts for improvement of oral health throughout the last 50 years have resulted in great gains of effective prevention and treatment. A great success is water fluoridation which benefits 7 out of 10 Americans who receive what from public water systems.

A large amount of individuals, especially those within rural areas, have limited access to preventative programs and treatment. Steps have been taken within Montana to increase the number of dental health professionals while expanding oral health education in schools., (2014). Oral Health | Healthy People 2020. [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Oct. 2014]. 

Issues Involving Teenagers and Oral Health


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), dental decay is the most common chronic disease in young people between the ages of 5 and 17. There are numerous oral health issues that can effect dental decay during the teen years. It is important for both teenagers and influential adultsto become informed about these issues. 

  • Orthodontics - Many teenagers require braces to fix crooked or crowded teeth. It is difficult to keep misaligned, overcrowded teeth clean, especially when braces are required. Misalignment can also increase the risk of losing teeth sooner and cause strain in muscles while chewing. Orthodontic evaluations could lead to better oral health along with extra care of dental needs.
  • Mouth Guards - As an important piece of equipment for contact sports, mouth guards, are needed in order to prevent broken teeth, cut lips, and other damage to mouths. They are especially needed for those who wear braces or other dental appliances.
  • Nutrition - A healthy diet is a very important factor regarding oral health. Many snacks and drinks are filled with starches and sugar that create plaque which erodes tooth enamel. These snacks create acids that attack tooth enamel for 20 minutes or more. Nutritious snacks that help support oral health, such as raw vegetables or fruit, are recommended.
  • Smoking / Substance Use - Smoking and chew tobacco not only stain teeth but they create a greater risk of developing oral cancer and/or gum disease. Along with the residue that tobacco leaves behind in the lungs, the bacteria acquired from plaque on teeth affect internal organs and can cause infections that are life threatening. Other substances, such as methamphetamines, can cause rampant tooth decay and tooth grinding / clenching which leads to excessive wear on teeth. Meth users have described their teeth as "blackened, stained, rotting, crumbling, or falling apart" which is called "meth mouth." There is usually no hope of treating methamphetamine damaged teeth and they are extracted.
  • Oral Piercings - It is obvious that metal jewelry from oral piercings can chip or crack teeth but these piercings can also cause infections, uncontrollable bleeding, and nerve damage. There is also the possibility of choking on studs, hoops, or barbells that come loose. It is recommended to discuss the consideration of oral piercings with a dentist in order to make the safest choice.
  • Eating Disorders  - Bulimia (binge eating and vomiting) is a serious disorder that causes chronic mouth irritation and erosion of tooth enamel. Severe erosion can affect an individual's bite, the overall size of teeth, and tooth-loss. Anorexia (an inordinate fear of gaining weight often resulting in vomiting) can have the same effects on oral health as bulimia. A dentist can correct the deteriorated tooth enamel, but they cannot treat the actual eating disorder - a potential life-threatening condition that requires addressing psychological issues of self-image and self-control.
American Dental Association. (2005). Methamphetamine use and oral healthJADA, [online] 136. Available at: [Accessed 8 Oct. 2014].

Colgate: Oral and Dental Health Resource Center. (2014). How can teens keep their smile bright? Available at:  [Accessed 7 Oct. 2014].


On pages 134-146, Tooth Tutor: A simplified oral health curriculum for Pre-K to Grade 12, provides a lesson plan that focuses on oral health for teens and how it can also affect the body. This lesson plan allows students to become aware of their oral health, nutrition, and the choices they make that affect oral health. This free lesson plan is available at:


This lesson plan from the Texas Education Agency, focuses on the career of dental hygienists. In the state of Montana, there is a shortage of dental professionals which may result in the inability to gain access to proper dental care. It is important to share dental occupations with our youth to increase the awareness of the need in the dental health workforce.

Access the free lesson plan here:


alling all college students interested in health professions!


Whether you are already in a health science program of study or still considering your options, joining a post-secondary HOSA chapter will allow you to explore careers in health through competitive events, job shadowing and educational symposiums with medical professionals.


College students who join HOSA will also receive FREE membership to the National Rural Health Association, courtesy of the MT Office of Rural Health!


And if that's not enough, HOSA also offers scholarships for school and opportunities to prepare for the MCAT or NCLEX Exams.


There are 57 diffierent competitive events to compete in at State and National Leadership Conferences. You can even compete in Epidemiology, Public Health, Healthy Lifestyles, or CERT skills.


Find out more about Montana HOSA: CLICK HERE


REACH is an acronym for Research and Explore Awesome Careers in Health. The regional AHECs set up a partnership between local hospitals and high schools to provide students the opportunity to visit their local hospital and participate in hands-on activities in a variety of departments.


The Eastern Montana AHEC region is hosting these REACH events:

  • November 12th in Lewistown - For students from Lewistown, Stanford, Hobson, Geyser, Grass Range, Moore, Roy, Denton, Winnett, and Winifred
  • November 18th in Miles City - For students in Custer, Garfield, Prairie, Fallon, Carter and Powder River counties

The Western Montana AHEC region is hosting these REACH events:

  • November 5th at the Mineral Community Hospital in Superior - For Alberton, St. Regis & Superior sophomore students
  • November 18th and 19th at at UM College of Health Professions and Biomedical Sciences - For Big Sky Health Science Academy freshmen students
  • November 25th at Providence St. Patrick Hospital - For sophomore students in Arlee

A dental hygienist cleans teeth and assesses the mouth, head, and neck for signs of oral disease. They also educate patients on oral hygiene, take and develop x-rays, and apply fluoride or sealants.


The salary range for a dental hygienist stated by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics is $47,880 to $96,690.


Q. How and why did you choose this career?

A. When I was a young girl, I had a lot of problems with my teeth. You would think that this would make me turn away from the dentist office but it actually created curiosity. The dentist that I had was amazing and he allowed me to work in his office while I was in high school. I did easy things, such as cleaning instruments, but that was where my curiosity began. I went to college and didn't really know what I wanted to do, but later in life I decided to apply for dental hygiene school at age 27.


Q. What does a typical day in your work life look like?

A. When you are working in clinical dental hygiene, you are providing preventative dental care to people of all ages, all the way from pediatric to geriatric. This care includes dental cleanings to help reduce the bacteria in the mouth, providing oral hygiene instruction so that individuals can help take care of themselves better, and all the other preventative services that go along with that such as fluoride applications and x-rays that helps detect dental decay when it's really early. The focus of dental hygiene is preventing disease or early diagnosis of dental diseases. It's not only about dental decay in dental hygiene, it's about the gum health (periodontal health) of the people that you see. Hygienists help identify people that may have gingivitis or periodontal disease that has progressed and causes bone loss around the teeth. Periodontal disease can be in young children in the form of gingivitis. When geriatric populations are affected by periodontal disease, severe bone loss around the teeth can occur because of infections in the gums. A key role of dental hygienists is being able to collect that assessment data and help the dentists in educating the patients and then preventing disease, which is the outcome we are aiming for.  


Q. What are your working conditions like?
A. I work in an office setting and as a dental hygienist you are usually working pretty independently. You are in charge of the rhythm of how things move along within the office. You need to pace yourself and be very organized. You eventually get very proficient because you are doing the same thing 8 times a day, maybe more, even though it is a different person. I always thought the best part of the job was interacting with the patients and teaching. Dental hygiene is a very physically demanding job, you have to be very mindful of your physical posture and your environment. I was conscientious about stretching before I went to work every day otherwise I would have had back problems. You also need to have dexterity as well, because you are working with small, sharp instruments in a small area. 


QWhat educational requirements are needed for your career?

A. Most of the programs for dental hygiene are Associate of Applied Science or Associate of Science. There are prerequisite health science courses such as; biology, chemistry, anatomy and physiology. Once those prerequisites are finished, students competitively apply to the hygeinist program. Once you get accepted into a program, it usually takes about 2 years to complete. There are some accelerated programs, but the closest one is in Utah.


Q. What skills and abilities are necessary in your profession?

A. In addition to long periods of sitting and manual dexterity, I think being a good communicator is essential to engage people to try to help them change unhealthy behaviors. Collaboration is also very important. Even though a dental hygienist works independently, they have to be able to communicate with the doctor, dentist, assistant, and scheduler at their facility.


Q. Any final thoughts?

A. The only thing that I would like to add is how important and integral the collaborative approach to healthcare is while we move forward. It is important to know that with the Affordable Care Act, just keeping people healthy is going to take a team effort. Getting people to realize how integral oral health is to their overall health!, (2014). Dental Hygienists. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Oct. 2014].

Hollingsworth, T. (2014, October 14). Telephone interview.


The state and regional AHEC offices have "Pathways to Oral Health Careers" brochures that show the various dental career programs through the West. These brochures are FREE of charge! Please contact Renee Harris -


"Oral Health Education Tools and Resources" is created by the Rhode Island Oral Health Program and Health Department but it offers a list of a variety of books, websites, and other resources - has created dental health quizzes and activities for various skill levels 

In This Issue
Oral Health Eduation
Teenagers and Oral Health Issues
Flossing Day 
November 28, 2014


The day after Thanksgiving is National Flossing Day! Let's use this day as a reminder that we should floss everyday!
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Please contact us with your comments, ideas, questions or projects you'd like to see highlighted in future issues of this e-newsletter. And thank you for the work you do every day to inspire and support public health initiatives and health care in Montana!


Renee Harris
Montana Area Health Education Center (AHEC)