Students help to reduce school pupils’ anxiety around COVID-19

Dental students have helped young people with additional needs to practise self-care and coping strategies to deal with anxiety around COVID-19.

Delivering breathing exercises and a special workbook, students on the BDS Dentistry programme at the University of Plymouth worked with year 8 children at Brook Green Centre for Learning in Plymouth as part of their Inter-Professional Engagement module.

The module, run every year in conjunction with Peninsula Dental Social Enterprise (PDSE), sees second-year students on the University’s BDS Dentistry and BSc Dental Therapy and Hygiene programmes work with organisations across Plymouth to deliver oral health interventions. It was run online for the first time this year due to COVID-19.

Brook Green Centre for Learning, a purpose-built school for young people aged 11–16 who have cognition, learning and social, emotional and mental health needs, wanted a bespoke session related directly to the pandemic.

Sarah Holt, Deputy Headteacher at Brook Green said: 

“We've been pleased to be involved with this Inter-Professional Engagement for the last few years and we didn't want the pandemic to stop it. The students got so much out of the online workshop – it helped to reassure them that although life is a bit different there are things that they can do to help themselves and keep safe and happy.”

Each pupil received an activity pack for use during the session which included top tips for oral health (care), decorate your own mask and apron (create), mindfulness activities such as breathing (calm) and a postcard to write and send to someone you care for (connect). The ‘four Cs’ were well received by the pupils, with one saying: “I feel really calm now I know how to breathe like a bee.”

Jemma Facenfield, PDSE Dentist and the tutor who oversaw the work, said: 

“The past 12 months have been a difficult time for all and has created new challenges in the way in which we live. This in turn has created new anxieties and barriers to health care and for some has made day to day living a scary and strange place. After a meeting with Brook Green, the students wanted to help address some of these new issues in a class of children with a range of complex and additional needs but also give a general health and wellbeing message with a dental twist. The group looked at what things made them unique and incorporated this into a work book and workshop which broke down barriers and allowed the children to relate to the students rather than being seen as ‘scary’ dentists.”

Brook Green teacher, Bryn Marshall, said: 

“Our students were put at ease by the dental students' calm and easy going nature and they enjoyed learning about the dental students' hobbies and interests, this made them more relatable. The project also provided time to reflect and engage in activities that support their wellbeing, which under the present circumstances is vitally important.”

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