Fern Ingber, Founding President & CEO, America's ToothFairy: National Children's Oral Health Foundation
A little over ten years ago, a movement began that would change the lives and smiles of millions of children. And it all began with one simple conversation.
In 2005, I was introduced to an exceptional, inspiring dentist who had started a dental clinic for underserved children in California. Dr. Cherilyn Sheets had transformed her childhood home into The Children's Dental Center, which combined compassionate care with preventive education, utilizing the myth of the ToothFairy to promote positive health behaviors. The goal of the program was not just to provide treatment, but to break the cycle of preventable pediatric dental disease.
When this highly respected lecturer and practitioner asked me to join her in addressing what I was surprised to learn was the #1 chronic childhood disease in America, I was honored. After researching the extent of this silent epidemic, I was shocked to learn that there was not one independent, national organization singularly focused on raising awareness of this vital health issue while supporting direct delivery of oral health education and care for underserved children. More than the astounding statistics, the pain and humiliation I witnessed on the faces of the children and families at the clinic haunted me during and after my visit. After all, what is worse than seeing a child in pain?
The following year, with tremendous support and guidance from outstanding academicians, clinicians, and corporations, the National Children's Oral Health Foundation (NCOHF) was formed. The organization's first Board Chairperson was Dr. Cherilyn Sheets, the visionary dentist who inspired the creation of NCOHF. Expertise and guidance was provided by outstanding leaders, including Dr. Harold Slavkin, former director of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research; Dr. Caswell Evans, executive editor of the 2000 Surgeon's General's Report on Oral Health; Dr. Joel Berg, former president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry; and Maria Perno Goldie, former president of the American Dental Hygienists' Association and the International Federation of Dental Hygienists. A number of these early supporters formed our first Scientific Advisory Board (SAB), currently chaired by Dr. Rebecca Slayton, a leading researcher in pediatric dentistry. Our SAB and Board of Directors continue to attract respected clinicians, educators, and corporate leaders from a wide range of disciplines.
Realizing the importance of engaging the American public, NCOHF was rebranded as America's ToothFairy: National Children's Oral Health Foundation. From our earliest beginnings, America's ToothFairy received generous support from key media, corporations, and philanthropic individuals who were attracted to our focus on pediatric dental disease and strategies to deliver prevention-focused solutions. How grateful we are to the wonderful supporters, including many caring dental hygienists, who contributed their time, treasure, and expertise to give this organization its start and who continue to support America's ToothFairy.
The first primary objective of America's ToothFairy was to expand access to services for children in need by developing and supporting a national Affiliate Network of nonprofit community dental clinics. Affiliates received donated dental products, dental equipment, educational materials, and financial grants to expand their ability to provide preventive education and restorative services. Because many of these clinics were so busy delivering critical treatment, they had little time to address community oral health literacy or drive widespread behavior change-the keys to changing the alarming trajectory of pediatric dental disease. To address this need, America's ToothFairy developed and distributed a range of engaging educational tools, primarily the ToothFairy 101® Community Education Kit. Today, the ToothFairy 101 Community Education Kit and other America's ToothFairy educational resources and programs are being used in all 50 states, Canada, and across the globe by thousands of volunteers, including students, civic organizations, and health professionals dedicated to the cause of children's oral health. As prevention specialists, dental hygienists were enthusiastic early adopters of our educational programs and remain some of our most passionate partners.
America's ToothFairy continues to refine and develop educational materials for children, youth, parents and caregivers on everything from toothbrushing and flossing to the negative effects of alcohol and other drugs. Most recently, America's ToothFairy created a supplement for youth and young adults with special needs to accompany the ToothFairy 101 Community Education Kit. Introduced at the 2015 Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles, this supplement is available to all those serving children with disabilities.
Since its founding, America's ToothFairy has expanded its Affiliate Network to include more than 100 university dental and dental hygiene programs, regional and state coalitions, hospitals, community clinics, mobile units, and school-based programs. Many of these Affiliates join national oral health promotion efforts and participate and benefit from America's ToothFairy partenrships and signature programs such as the Smile Drive through which they both collect and receive oral care products for the children they serve.
As America's ToothFairy continued to grow, we began to focus on establishing partnerships outside the dental industry and creating programs to engage entire communities in oral health. Community engagement was the impetus for the America's ToothFairy Oral Health Zone Program, which mobilizes community stakeholders in a collaborative approach to address children's oral health and wellness. Today, there are six Oral Health Zone Programs in Arkansas, Minnesota, Charlotte (NC), the National Capital Area (DC), the Bay Area and Orange County (CA), with several other Oral Health Zones in development. Collaborating with local and state oral health coalitions, health departments, safety net and other non-profit dental clinics, school districts, youth-serving organizations and other community partners, Oral Health Zones elevate awareness of the importance of oral health, increase access to dental services and mobilize communities to take action.
In 2013, America's ToothFairy launched the #MySmileMatters Youth Movement. As witnessed with other public health causes, such as preventing youth substance use, when young people are passionate about an issue and mobilized as advocates, they can be extremely powerful in driving change. By providing step-by-step plans, resources, and incentives, #MySmileMatters unites and guides young people in making a positive impact on oral health in their communities. Today, America's ToothFairy is the only national, health-related organization focusing on youth engagement in oral health. #MySmileMatters youth leaders are not only working to improve the health of their communities, they are elevating awareness of oral health nationwide. Last year, nearly 600,000 children and youth were impacted through the #MySmileMatters Youth Movement.
We are living in a time of unprecedented change and uncertainty, and often our world's problems seem unsolvable. But, there is a solution to the problem of widespread pediatric dental disease, and it is one we can achieve in our lifetime. Creating a movement to change oral health behaviors is not easy, nor has it ever been more necessary. The consequences of a public health system built upon treatment and crisis management, rather than early education and prevention, continue to be devastating for children and families across our nation.
In our tenth year, America's ToothFairy is bringing people together to address the pediatric oral health crisis like never before. We're convening partners from across the health spectrum to expand access to oral health educational and preventive services. We're opening doors to talented students with bold new student-driven initiatives. We're integrating knowledge and encouraging collaborations that improve lives and change community conditions. We're collaborating with generous corporations that are aligning their brands and featured products with our smile-saving cause. And we're developing non-traditional partnerships, from Salvation Army to the Armed Forces, that are working to break the cycle of preventable pediatric dental disease for the good of communities in America and eventually around the world.
America's ToothFairy has taken on the difficult challenge to provide early education and preventive services for children who need them the most, and we need your help. There are numerous ways you can join with America's ToothFairy to impact the lives of children in need. We hope you will visit our website to learn more about us, our work and how you can get involved. Your active participation will move us closer to achieving our goal of transforming children's pain and hopelessness into happy, healthy smiles and successful futures.
Join us in being part of this transformation-not just this year or during Children's Dental Health Month but throughout the years ahead. Together, we will not only make a difference-we will make history.
Saving Smiles, One Toothbrush at a Time
Dental hygienists help provide oral care supplies through the Smile Drive
Nearly every parent and teacher struggles to persuade young children to share. Refereeing squabbles over toys and games can be a daily source of frustration. But there's one thing thousands of children across the U.S. share every day with their siblings and even their parents and shouldn't - their toothbrush.
For many children from low-income families, a significant contributor to tooth decay is a lack of access to basic oral care products such as a toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. Our partners, including our Affiliate Network of more than 100 community clinics and programs, regularly report their patients cannot afford oral care products for their families, or routinely share toothbrushes to save money. Stacey Anderson, executive director of Just Kids Dental, an America's ToothFairy Affiliate in Two Harbors, Minn., said, "On a weekly, often daily, basis, our staff hear children openly and honestly communicate how they and their siblings do not own a toothbrush, a basic necessity."
That's why dental hygienists join volunteers across the country to participate in the America's ToothFairy Smile Drive™-a national campaign to collect toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss, and rinse for at-risk children. The campaign, taking place throughout February, National Children's Dental Health Month, seeks to bring national attention to the children's oral health crisis and bridge the gap for families who cannot afford oral care products. Over the past two years, more than 660,000 products have been collected and distributed to children in need.
After completing a brief online registration form, each Smile Drive host receives access to a free online toolkit with flyers, donation box labels, and other resources to help make participation easy and fun. Prizes and contests have helped spark inspiring creativity from participants across the country-with some Smile Drives collecting more than 10,000 products.
In addition to collecting toothbrushes, participants often host "Meet the ToothFairy" events, distribute educational information, and provide oral health presentations to local children. With participants dressed in toothfairy wings, Smile Drives also attract local media coverage, helping drive community awareness of the importance of oral health.
Dental hygienists have been some of our most active Smile Drivers. Kristina Hyatt, RDH, hosted her first Smile Drive in Cherokee, N.C., in February 2015. Winning the America's ToothFairy Smile Drive Award for most products collected by a dental hygienist, Kristina's Smile Drive yielded 5,144 oral care products. Kristina distributed the products to children at a local Native American youth center, teaching them a brushing song and tips for caring for their teeth. "One little boy could not wait to brush his teeth, saying they felt 'dirty,'" Kristina said. "The smiles on their faces were priceless, especially after receiving something as simple as a toothbrush."
Crowned Miss Native American, USA, 2015-2016, Kristina is now using her title as a platform to host an expanded 2016 Smile Drive, helping to create healthy smiles throughout Indian Country. Her effort is an important one-as American Indian preschoolers experience tooth decay at a rate five times higher than other children.
Pamela Mazaris, RDH, BS, MEd, instructor for dental hygiene at Central Georgia Technical College in Macon, Ga., rallied her department to hold a "Tools for Teeth" drive throughout the month of February. Students, faculty, and staff participated, with dental hygiene students decorating their own collection boxes. "We participate in many volunteer efforts in our community and the Smile Drive was just another way for us to give back to the community, especially to those in need," Pamela said.
For many participants, the biggest blessing of hosting a Smile Drive is being able to select a local non-profit to receive their Smile Drive donations and personally deliver them. Beth Arcury, RDH, is a school dental hygienist for the Northampton Area School District in Northampton, Pa. "During the Smile Drive, students were so happy to receive a new toothbrush and toothpaste along with my dental lessons," Beth said. "Probably the most meaningful thing I heard from a child was, 'Thank you! Now, I can have my own toothbrush!' Imagine that. Something as simple as a toothbrush, something that most of us take for granted, was a very special gift for this student. That makes my job worth it."
Whether you work at a university, school, or dental practice, the Smile Drive is an easy, fun way to make a difference for local children. Jen Kloskey, RDH, involved her patients in a Smile Drive hosted at Prosthodontics of Madison, the practice where she works in Madison, Wis. "We had a blast with the Smile Drive!" Jen said. "Our patients appreciated that we were working to preserve the oral health of our youth. Since we are a prosthodontic office, our patients and referrers thought it was great we were participating in something preventative in nature." The 800 oral care products Jen and her colleagues collected were distributed to children at the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County and Touched Twice Madison, a charity dental clinic.
Kristina Hyatt, RDH, hosted her first Smile Drive in North Carolina last winter.
Beth Arcury, RDH, (left) delivered her Smile Drive supplies to a Pennsylvania school.
Now in our third year, the Smile Drive has impacted the lives of children in schools, afterschool programs, shelters, Girls & Boys Clubs, community clinics, and other community organizations serving families in need. After receiving his Smile Drive toothbrush, David, a seven-year-old boy from North Carolina, exclaimed, "I didn't have a toothbrush. I had been wishing for one, and my dream came true!"
While the Smile Drive focuses on National Children's Dental Health Month, toothbrush collection drives are taking place all year round across the country. Interested in saving smiles in your community? We would love to have you join us. Learn more at www.AmericasToothFairy.org.
Reaching Kids in School-based Settings
Creative Outreaches Keep Students Smiling
Students at Pima Medical Institute host a ToothFairy 5k fun run.
Although schools are an ideal setting in which to teach children positive oral health habits, only a few states mandate school-based oral health education. Unfortunately, this means millions of children never receive the instruction they need to prevent painful and embarrassing tooth decay.
To address this problem, America's ToothFairy is collaborating with hundreds of volunteers, educators, school nurses, health officials, and school administrators across the country to incorporate oral health education and prevention-focused activities into school settings. These activities include hosting health fairs, instituting toothbrushing programs, holding oral health awareness events, and providing oral health educational presentations in local schools. Making use of educational tools that are fun and engaging for kids, students across the country are learning positive oral health behaviors that impact not only their own health, but the well-being of siblings and parents too. Here are just a few examples.
In Los Angeles, in partnership with the Los Angeles Trust for Children's Health, America's ToothFairy is helping to increase access to dental services and education for students in the L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD), the second largest school district in the country with 650,000 students. The need among LAUSD students is especially acute. A recent study of 1,400 students revealed that 44% of children had untreated cavities and one in ten had never been to a dentist. By incorporating America's ToothFairy educational programs and preventive services into the programs already provided at school-based clinics in the district, a powerful multi-pronged preventive approach is being implemented right in the heart of where youth spend their time every day.
Nearby in Orange County, where 50 percent of students live at or below the poverty level, America's ToothFairy is working with a variety of community partners including local university students to provide classroom oral health presentations. For example, student volunteers from California State University, Fullerton participate throughout the year, helping students in Fullerton School District establish and maintain healthy habits. School Readiness Nurses, who focus on preparing young children for kindergarten, are also actively involved in Orange County, using the ToothFairy 101 curriculum to provide education in classrooms. "I'm absolutely obsessed with this curriculum!" said one School Readiness Nurse of the ToothFairy 101 curriculum.
In Minnesota, America's ToothFairy is supporting collaborations between schools and health professionals through our Affiliate Network of community clinics and programs. Affiliates including Children's Dental Services, Ready Set Smile, Northern Dental Access Center, Just Kids Dental and others receive financial support, educational materials, and donated dental products to expand delivery of services for children in school districts across the state. America's ToothFairy is also helping set policy on sealant use through the Sealants in Schools Advisory Committee, which works to expand access to vital preventive services in schools for children statewide.
A.T. Still University Arizona School of Dentistry organizes students to provide oral health education in underserved communities.
Holly Jorgensen, RDH, is the executive director and founder of Let's Smile, Inc., an America's ToothFairy Affiliate in Owatonna, Minn. Holly and her team provide screenings, cleanings, fluoride treatments, nutritional education, referrals and other services to children across southeastern Minnesota.
"Let's Smile, Inc. is extremely grateful for the donations received from America's ToothFairy," Holly said. "We have used the community education kits in classroom presentations and have received donated oral health products that we hand out to the children at classroom presentations to encourage improved homecare. The support and encouragement from America's ToothFairy has allowed Let's Smile, Inc. to double the number of children receiving oral health educational resources."
In a successful model used throughout the country, America's ToothFairy is supporting school-based health centers to serve additional children in need in Arkansas, including the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Children International Future Smiles Dental Clinic. Through donated dental products, educational materials, and other resources, America's ToothFairy is helping them expand services, improve care, and positively impact student performance in the Little Rock School District.
Dental hygienists also play an important role in our school-based programs through participation in the Esther Wilkins Education Program (EWEP) and Students United with America's ToothFairy (SUAT). Founded with a generous gift from Dr. Esther Wilkins, renowned dentist and dental hygienist, the Esther Wilkins Education Program builds on dental hygienists' and dental hygiene students' role as prevention specialists by providing free educational assets, including the ToothFairy 101 Kit.
Involving hundreds of individual volunteer dental hygienists and nearly 200 dental hygiene schools, EWEP members raise awareness and improve oral health literacy through community outreach programs. Last year, more than 76,000 children in the U.S., Canada and around the world received oral health lessons thanks to EWEP members.
EWEP members Yvette Thornton, RDH, BS, and Heather Johnson, RDH, MEd, are co-directors of Dentistry in the Community, the outreach program of A.T. Still University's Arizona School of Dentistry & Oral Health (ASDOH). Dentistry in the Community, which emphasizes community dentistry and public health, serves nearly 7,000 community members per year and organizes dental students to provide oral health education in underserved communities.
As leaders of the ASDOH Students United with Americas ToothFairy chapter, Yvette and Heather have used America's ToothFairy resources to not only reach young children, they have mobilized hundreds of students to give back during their academic careers and make a lifelong commitment to community service.
"We can't get enough of the kits!" Yvette said. Heather added, "It is such a wonderful visual aid for kids. Sometimes it is difficult for students to transfer their dental knowledge into a program that is engaging for children, but the ToothFairy 101 kit makes it easy. It gives students confidence to do community outreach."
ASDOH has received multiple grants from America's ToothFairy to expand student outreach programs in the Apache Junction Unified School District and other communities using the ToothFairy 101 kit.
Driven by the needs they see in local schools, volunteer dental hygienists are also developing their own creative avenues for oral health promotion in their communities. Diana Graham, RDH, MS(c), is the ADHA student chapter advisor for the Pima Medical Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In addition to using the ToothFairy 101 Kit in local schools, she and her students hold an annual ToothFairy 5K Fun Run. With participation from students and community members, the event has sparked heightened interest in oral health.
"We are proud to be able to bring oral health awareness to our community," Diana said. "As an advisor, it's a proud day to see your students practice leadership, creative networking, and diligence in the organization of the run, and their willingness to donate a portion of their profits to support children in need through America's ToothFairy."
The health of our children, and the adults they will become, is inextricably linked to the health-related behaviors they adopt in their youth. Through our broad network of school-based programs and dedicated volunteers, we are helping to break the devastating cycle of disease and empower children with the tools to achieve optimal oral health and overall health. Thank you to each and every volunteer for all you are doing to keep kids brushing, flossing and smiling.