Across the country, youth and their adult mentors are taking to preschools, elementary schools, shelters, farmer’s markets, health fairs, and community organizations to help improve the oral health of at-risk children. With 51 million school hours lost to dental issues each year and more than 25 million children suffering from oral health problems, working directly with and through youth to save children from pain has never been more pressing.
In Muskogee, Oklahoma, the Youth Volunteer Corps provided toothbrushes, dental floss, and oral health activities once a week for six weeks at a local farmer's market. To provide the brushes, toothpaste, and floss, they partnered with local dental offices. Because nutrition and oral health go hand-in-hand, the youth used local produce from the market to demonstrate how delicious fresh fruits and vegetables can taste. Recipes were distributed so children and parents could make healthy snacks later at home.
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Girl Scout Troop 80123 in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, partnered with a local dentist to learn more about oral health and discuss ways to pursue dental careers. Troop leader Shannan Small commented, “Even when they are just hanging around at slumber parties, they're talking about what they learned. We turned them into avid oral health advocates!”
In Indiana, the Boys and Girls Club of Zionsville is taking a multi-pronged approach. In addition to making “buddy bags” with toothbrushes and toothpaste for homeless children in Indianapolis, they set up a booth on oral health at their Annual 5K Family Fun Run and educated all their club members on proper habits. “America’s ToothFairy inspired us to create a partnership with a dentist’s office in our community," said Sarah Webler, Unit Director. "They now help us educate our members and their families on the importance of oral health.”
Last year, America’s ToothFairy reached 1.9 million children — more than 522,000 of which came from its outreach to youth programs and high schools. A recent survey showed that 65% of these children come from low income homes, and 47% have trouble finding affordable dental care. Through youth programs, 85% of responding groups now engage in oral health education, and 60% are incorporating oral health into overall wellness programs. Coupled with support in finding care for children, America’s ToothFairy has developed a unique blend of community engagement programming that 99% of responding participants agree has made a positive impact on them, their youth, or their students.
These stories represent a new movement in oral health to reach non-traditional partners and empower a younger demographic to take ownership of their community's overall wellness. For more information on how America’s ToothFairy is tackling pediatric dental disease by supporting youth leaders like these, visit AmericasToothFairy.org.