SHERIDAN — Healthy habits need to start early, and the dental hygiene program at Sheridan College hopes to instill good oral hygiene habits in young children by offering cleanings, fluoride treatments and other services with individualized treatment.

For many years, the program has offered low-cost oral health care to area residents of all ages, with a special focus on children and youth. Through the program, first and second year dental hygiene students work with patients as young as two or three years old, teaching them about good oral hygiene.

“Typically we try to do comprehensive treatment, not just cleaning,” explained SC dental instructor Tobin Korsch. “We would do all the services that would benefit the child such as cleaning, X-rays and any dental sealants they need placed on their teeth.”

The services are offered at a very low rate or even free, though some services are scheduled to increase modestly in cost next year. Currently, cleanings cost $6 and will increase to $15 next year. X-rays and sealants are now free, but next year, sealants will cost $10 for up to four teeth and $20 for five or more teeth. X-rays and fluoride treatments will remain free of charge.

In addition to cleanings and X-rays, the program also offers dental sports guards for $25 for young athletes.

Korsch said one feature of the program is the focus on individualized care and education. Rather than simply cleaning teeth, the students are taught to talk with each patient to find out their specific needs.

“It is personalized,” said Korsch. “They are taught how to learn to individualize patient education.”

For instance, Korsch said after learning a young patient is an athlete, the student will likely visit with the child about the importance of a sports guard to protect his or her teeth and also discuss the downsides of sports or energy drinks that might negatively impact their teeth.

One regular feature is the chewing of a pill that makes plaque on teeth visible and shows children where they need to focus their brushing.

“You can show them, this is where the plaque is, what it can do and what will happen if you don’t get rid of it,” said Korsch. “It is better than the same speech for every kid. It is easier to hear it from a student or instructor than your mom. It sounds less like nagging. We try to make it fun, especially for the little kids.”

Korsch said even toddlers are welcome at the clinic, though a first visit may just be as a spectator.

“Even if they are three or four, they could come with an older brother or sister and watch so it isn’t so frightening to them when they come for their first visit,” suggested Korsch.

While the services may offer significant cost savings for local families, working with a variety of patients is also a huge benefit to the dental hygiene students and prepares them for eventual scenarios that will be encountered in their careers.

“They get to see patients of all ages and at all oral health levels,” said Korsch, noting that instructors closely supervise all work that the students do on patients. “They see special needs patients. They learn a lot about patient management and they have to learn behavior management techniques to control the situation and make it a good experience. It is just a great experience for everyone.”

“We always need more patients,” she added. “We need more kids, more adolescents and more adults who have a lot of buildup. People are sometimes embarrassed about the buildup on their teeth if they have not been for a cleaning in a long time but those are the people we want.”

Appointments are offered during the spring and fall semesters. Korsch encouraged parents to call early, as appointments usually schedule several weeks out. For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact the dental hygiene clinic at 674-6446 ext. 3402.