Oral Health: Individual Education

Background on Individual Education


expandWhat are individual education strategies?

collapseWhat are individual education strategies?

  • Individual education interventions work to prevent oral diseases and conditions by increasing knowledge, improving problem solving skills, and altering attitudes and beliefs regarding oral health care habits, including brushing teeth, using fluoride, flossing, visiting dental health professionals regularly, avoiding tobacco, minimizing use of sugar and alcohol, getting oral cancer screening, and using protective head and mouth gear during athletic events.
  • Individual education interventions should be culturally sensitive, involve family and friends, and incorporate the individual’s readiness to change behavior, as appropriate.
  • The content of the message may focus on a wide variety of topics, including: information (e.g., risk factors for oral diseases and conditions), identification of barriers (e.g., fear of the dentist’s office) recommendations (e.g., brushing, flossing, using fluoride), resources (e.g., referrals to oral health professionals or health education classes), or skill-building exercises for recommended oral health care habits (e.g., flossing).

expandHow can I use individual education strategies in oral health interventions?

collapseHow can I use individual education strategies in oral health interventions?

  • The specific strategies used differ based on the focus of the intervention. For example, information may be provided through face-to-face interactions with oral health or other health professionals, self-help materials, skill-building exercises, workbooks, videos, newsletters, brochures, posters, fact sheets, automated voice messaging, computer video games, or interactive computer programs. Some of these strategies may provide cues to action in addition to sharing information (e.g., skill-building exercises or worksheets prompting individuals to brush and floss). When focusing on dental fear, most programs have provided training on relaxation techniques with the slow introduction of the threatening event (e.g., dental visit, teeth cleaning).

expandHow do “tailored messages” and “targeted messages” differ? How can I use these messages in oral health interventions?

collapseHow do “tailored messages” and “targeted messages” differ? How can I use these messages in oral health interventions?

  • Individual education interventions may work best when information is matched to the individual. These “tailored messages” because they take into account specific individual characteristics in creating oral health messages. Materials or strategies may be developed specifically to meet an individual’s characteristics in terms of stage of readiness to change, attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and other lifestyle characteristics.  The concept of readiness to change (drawn from the Transtheoretical Model or Stages of Change) suggests that individuals may need different kinds of interventions to help them address oral health care depending on how ready they are to change their behaviors. For example, some people may not believe in the importance of oral health care habits. Others may have just discovered that they have cavities, gum disease, or oral cancer. Yet, others may already practice good oral health care habits but need to focus on regular visits to dental health professionals, reducing intake of sugar and alcohol, or quitting tobacco use. Interventions that address these different stages of readiness to change behavior can help individuals move from one stage to the next.
  • Tailored health education materials are developed based on characteristics that are unique to each individual; therefore, an individual assessment (e.g., survey, interview) is required in order to collect information specific to the individual.
  • Alternately, intervention materials or messages may be geared toward a specific subgroup of the population of interest (e.g., children, older adults, African Americans, individuals with lower income). These are often called “targeted messages” because they consider the specific needs of the subpopulation. Targeted messages may also be addressed to individuals with potential health risks (e.g., oral cancer, cavities, gum disease), other health conditions (e.g., diabetes, heart disease, stroke, HIV/AIDS, pre-term or low-weight births, osteoporosis), poor oral health care habits (e.g., brushing and flossing, visiting dentist on a regular basis), or other behaviors that influence oral health (e.g., wearing protective head and mouth gear, avoiding tobacco use, reducing sugar and alcohol intake).

expandWhat is an example of a tailored message?

collapseWhat is an example of a tailored message?

  • A recommendation to change oral health care habits may take into account the following information about the individual:
    • Frank, a fifty-year old employee at a chocolate factory, who has recently been diagnosed with gum disease, has thought about reducing his sugar intake because he knows it will help with the pain he experiences from his gum disease. Yet, he is always tempted by the chocolate that he has enjoyed for years, so it is difficult for him to get motivated to change his diet. At work, he likes to eat candy during his breaks, and he really enjoys dessert after dinner. He has thought about having healthy snacks at work, but there are no places around his work that sell healthy alternatives, and the vending machines are stocked with soda. Frank also knows that in the long run his oral health can affect his overall health and quality of life. 
  • In this case, a message can be designed for Frank as follows:
    • “Frank, reducing your sugar intake now can help minimize your pain and discomfort and keep you feeling your best. The first step is thinking about having less candy and desserts or choosing those that are sugar-free as part of your daily routine. There are easy ways to change your snacking patterns. Consider bringing healthy snacks to work with you (e.g., apples, carrot sticks). You can also continue to have small amounts of sweets, but you may want to choose sugar-free options. Likewise, brushing, flossing, and using fluoride every day can help to improve your oral health care habits. You can start today. Keep reading to find out some other tips you might find helpful such as making regular appointments with your dentist!”

expandWhat is skill building and how can I use it in oral health management interventions?

collapseWhat is skill building and how can I use it in oral health management interventions?

  • Another common individual education approach that is used to address oral health is building the skills to change behavior.  Specific activities may include skill-building opportunities (e.g., oral health care habits), obtaining support (e.g., use less sugar in family meals and snacks), identifying barriers to behavior change (e.g., infant or child may be restless and fussy without a pacifier in their mouth), helping people to develop strategies to overcome barriers, and preventing the urge to go back to previous behaviors once they have changed (relapse prevention). Skill building strategies can be tailored to individuals or targeted to the population of interest. Both tailored and targeted strategies can be delivered at one time or at regular intervals (e.g., weekly, monthly or quarterly). The intervention information can appear in the form of print, telephone, video or computer kiosk messages.

expandWhat else do I need to consider for an oral health intervention?

collapseWhat else do I need to consider for an oral health intervention?

  • Some studies describe advantages of an interactive, web-based tailored intervention over a more traditional print version, including: the ability to receive immediate feedback, an interactive nature similar to interpersonal counseling, and the ability to use graphics and other features to increase interest and attention. Furthermore, once on the web, the tailored intervention can reach a relatively larger group of people making it more cost-effective. In addition, it can be updated continuously to include the most recent knowledge.

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