This February, dentistrytoday.com celebrates National Children’s Dental Health Month with news stories, interviews, and blogs all about safeguarding pediatric oral health. #NCDHM
Samantha Dreyer, sophomore at William Fremd High School in Palatine, Ill, is a competitive figure skater and Team USA athlete. When not busy traveling for competitions or participating in service projects through her high school’s Service Over Self Club, she dreams of one day helping underserved communities as a dentist or orthodontist. Motivated to decrease dental health disparities, Samantha was looking for a way to help address some of these needs within her own community. Hosting an America’s ToothFairy Smile Drive was the perfect opportunity.
America’s ToothFairy: National Children’s Oral Health Foundation launched the Smile Drive in 2014 as a national campaign to raise awareness of the importance of children’s dental health and collect toothbrushes, toothpaste, and other oral care products for children in need throughout February, National Children’s Dental Health Month. Thanks to the enthusiastic participation of volunteers like Samantha, to date more than one million oral care products have been distributed to nonprofit clinics and organizations reaching underserved children.
Brown Paper Bag Day
With inspiration from Brown Paper Bag Day at her mother’s pharmacy, a day in which elderly patients bring in medications they don’t remember how or when to take, Samantha and her mother devised an innovative way to make her Smile Drive a success—Samantha created a Brown Paper Bag Day of her own.
Samantha bought enough brown paper bags to distribute to every house in her neighborhood and affixed a short letter explaining who she was, what the Smile Drive is, and why oral care products are so desperately needed. The letter also included pickup instructions indicating the date and time she would collect the bags from the front door of each home. By the end of her Smile Drive, Samantha had collected more than 300 products for children in her community.
Smile Drive is a national campaign. However, the purpose is to spark both local participation and local impact. Smile Drive hosts select a local shelter, food bank, school, or other nonprofit organization of their choice to receive their donations, allowing volunteers to address the needs of children right in their own community.
The charity Samantha chose to receive her donations was the Northwest Community Healthcare Mobile Dental Clinic. This mobile clinic provides preventive and restorative oral health services to individuals and families who are without dental insurance and who live at less than 200% of the federal poverty level. Samantha’s hope was that by equipping the clinic with additional oral care products, more families would be able to enjoy healthy, pain-free smiles.
“The Smile Drive was a fun and easy project to do,” Samantha said, proud of her community’s support for her first Smile Drive. “I hope to do an even larger Smile Drive next year with my Service Over Self Club.”
America’s ToothFairy volunteers like Samantha have used all kinds of creative ways to expand the impact of their Smile Drives. Girl Scouts of Orange County Junior Troop #4581 hosted Christmas caroling events where they “caroled for smiles,” collecting oral care products from house to house. A group of high school students with HOSA: Future Health Professionals in South Dakota visited all of their local dental practices, requesting and collecting donations. By the end of their Smile Drive, they had collected more than 26,000 products, many of which were distributed to children on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Volunteers and businesses in the Charlotte, NC, community, where America’s ToothFairy is headquartered, have been especially supportive. The Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department, Coca-Cola Consolidated, the American Burger Company, Wells Fargo, and many other businesses participated as collection sites. Community members pitched in by dropping off oral care products at the “Smile Drive Thru.”
When Smile Drive Charlotte concludes, more than 50,000 toothbrushes will be distributed to local schools and nonprofit organizations serving children in need. More than 40,000 of them will be distributed to the 78 Title 1 Schools in the Charlotte area. By stocking the schools’ hygiene closets and equipping teachers with products for their students, the Smile Drive is helping ensure every child has access to a primary tool for tooth decay prevention—a new toothbrush.
Though the Smile Drive is emphasized during February, National Children’s Dental Health Month, Smile Drives can be held at any time throughout the year. America’s ToothFairy provides a free toolkit with free resources and tips for promotion. Learn more about how you can participate at smiledrive.org.
Ms. Malmgren, executive director of America’s ToothFairy: National Children’s Oral Health Foundation, has more than 15 years of leadership experience across a variety of industries. She began her career in dentistry in 2006, serving as director of operations for the Sheets & Paquette Dental Practice and the Newport Coast Oral Facial Institute. In 2011, she relocated to Charlotte, NC, where she joined the America’s ToothFairy team and later assumed the role of chief operating officer. As executive director, she aims to continue to expand the organization’s role as a valued resource provider for nonprofit clinics and community partners delivering oral health education, preventive services, and treatment for underserved children.