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Oral health therapists Donna McMahon and Brittany Kidd are delivering dental differently with a new parent-friendly, tech-savvy approach to early childhood oral health. And there’s opportunities for Australia’s dental practices to get onboard. By Shane Conroy
Oral health therapists Donna McMahon and Brittany Kidd met as students at the University of Adelaide. They remained close friends after graduation, and both went into private practice. McMahon worked primarily in orthodontics, and Kidd worked in general practice.
Then the friends fell pregnant within five months of each other, and each had their second child within eight weeks of each other. During their first pregnancies, they took walks together and would talk about how they planned to manage the oral health of their new babies.
They would discuss topics like the types of dummies that would not hinder their babies’ oral structures, the kinds of cups they should be using, and preventative practices that would set their newborns up for a lifetime of good oral health.
However, despite their education and experience in the dental profession, several questions remained for them around the topics they were discussing. While they could find plenty of online information about other early childhood health topics such as nutrition, sleep and speech, they struggled to find much relatable content that answered their questions about early childhood oral health.
As dental professionals, they also knew that constrained appointment times mean there is limited opportunity for dental practices to deliver in-depth education to new parents about early childhood oral health.
They believe this lack of relatable content combined with constrained appointment times have created a knowledge gap for new parents when it comes to early childhood oral health.
“If we, as oral health therapists, had limited knowledge of early childhood oral health, then we could only imagine how confusing it is for new parents outside of the dental industry,” McMahon says. “If we were having these discussions, how can we expect new parents outside of the dental industry to have this knowledge, or to even be asking these kinds of questions?”
So McMahon and Kidd put their heads together to solve the problem. Their solution is Teaching Teeth—a social media and web platform that aims to share early childhood dental information with new parents.
For parents, by parents
Teaching Teeth began as an Instagram page (@teaching.teeth). Then they created a website on Canva and began publishing posts that answered some of the most basic questions they had been asked by new parents they had met through parenting groups.
“Teaching Teeth is a digital space where easy-to-understand information is delivered through the lens of a parent, which can be viewed anywhere, any time,” Kidd explains.
The initial response to Teaching Teeth has been impressive. McMahon and Kidd built an 8000-strong following on Instagram within about 12 months of the launch.
They also won the Dental Hygienists Association of Australia (DHAA) Oral Health Award for 2023. The award recognises the excellent contribution of oral health practitioners in improving grassroots health outcomes and the wellbeing of the general public.
“We’ve had nothing but really positive feedback,” McMahon says. “I think part of the success comes down to the fact that everything we post is very much non-judgmental because we are mums ourselves. We don’t come at it with a black-and-white approach. It’s about working with parents to help them make better choices for their kids’ oral health without starting World War III in their households.”
For dental practitioners
But for McMahon and Kidd, Teaching Teeth is not just about building a community for new parents. Through Teaching Teeth, they also want to use technology to aid clinical practices and spread the message of preventative dentistry to a technology-savvy generation of new parents.
McMahon emphasises that Teaching Teeth is intended to be a resource for dental practitioners with the goal to make it easier for practices to provide the information new parents want and need. Part of that commitment is providing dental practices with information cards that direct patients to Teaching Teeth’s online resources via a QR code.
“Rather than supplying another pamphlet to clinics, they can pop our QR cards into their goodie bags or have them available at reception,” McMahon says. “This is part of the way we can use digital transformation to change the way dentistry is traditionally delivered.”
The goal is to connect patients with critical oral health information they need to know prior to their child’s first dental appointment, including topics such as why straw cups are good for babies, advice about dummies, and using silicon brushes to desensitise babies’ mouths and ease the transition to toothbrushing.
Kidd adds that this type of pre-appointment information is critical because even though a child’s first dental appointment should be around the time their first tooth erupts, their oral health journey should begin well before that.
“For example, one of our most important messages to parents is around preventing oral bacterial transmission that can happen through things like sharing utensils, not cleaning dummies appropriately, and putting fingers in their mouths,” she explains.
Early childhood opportunities
McMahon and Kidd also want to build an Australia-wide database of dental practices they can refer Teaching Teeth followers to, and plan to invite interested practices to sign up soon.
“We quite frequently have people message us asking about their children’s teeth, and we want to be able to direct them to a clinic in their area that can help them,” Kidd explains. “We want to build a database of clinics that serves as a connection between the industry and new parents.”
The pair are also trying to help dental professionals refresh their knowledge about early childhood oral health with CPD events. They recently held their first CPD event in Adelaide, and plan to hold more in-person and web-based CPD workshops in the future.
“Part of Teaching Teeth is to help better the memory retention of dental education and information through repetition and by being able to access it when it is convenient,” McMahon says. “We hope that through this people will have a better understanding of dental education and therefore can make better informed decisions.”
Their first CPD event in Adelaide was all about the first dental appointment and how to make it a positive experience. McMahon and Kidd believe that dental professionals have an opportunity to use that first experience to build positive associations with their practice.
This also represents a valuable business opportunity for dental practices. McMahon says a lot of their followers say they’ve been turned away from dental practices until their child is two or three. But inviting new parents to bring their children in for their first appointment well before their second or third birthdays is a chance to build positive relationships with young families who will require many years of dental treatment.
“Dental professionals have an opportunity to make that first experience really positive and fun. If kids come in for a preventative check-up that’s lighthearted, that’s going to build a positive association with the dental practice,” McMahon says. “Whereas if their first experience is because they’ve had an accident or they’ve got an infection, that’s going to be a lot more negative, which can create a lifelong fear of the dentist.”