Several years ago, during a routine dental cleaning, my hygienist related her experience while visiting a local school for Children's Dental Health Month. She told me about Jessica, a little third grade girl who's teeth she described as "black". It was not hard to imagine how awful that would look. Severe tooth decay is not attractive. I was appalled that today in America; a child can go to school with severe dental disease and not receive some type of intervention from their community. Think about it. Not only would Jessica be in pain, and if you have ever had a toothache you know how debilitating that can be, but she will suffer from the social stigma her disfigured smile will attract. Her ability to learn can be affected by pain and discomfort. Her health can be seriously affected by her gum disease.
What is the future for Jessica? We can assume her family is unable to afford dental care for her and therefore cannot afford restorative treatment to give her back a beautiful smile. What will her teen years be like? As a community and a nation, we must ask ourselves how this can happen. Perhaps, in some low income families, when faced with a choice between buying a toothbrush or a gallon of milk, they cannot justify the toothbrush. There are other causes of tooth decay in children, such as high sugar diets, baby bottle syndrome, and thumb-sucking to name a few. Parent education is a huge factor in the prevention of dental decay.
Following my visit to the hygienist, several years went by filled with personal changes and challenges, but I never forgot about Jessica. I toyed with the idea of starting a nonprofit to provide dental hygiene supplies and educational materials to children in need but kept thinking that, at the age of 62, I was too old. But I realized age is not an excuse. I started a nonprofit called the Children's Healthy Smile Project. The paperwork was overwhelming and took a long time to complete, but in August 2007 I received my nonprofit status. Of course, this is not the end, but just the beginning of the work.
The goal of Children's Healthy Smile Project is to aid low income children by providing dental hygiene supplies such as toothbrushes, floss, and toothpaste, but also educate their parents by providing information about dental care starting from the birth of their child. To reach the maximum number of children, I am working with other nonprofits that have direct contact with thousands of children in need or at risk nationwide. It's never too late to start helping others. I know that when I am unable to continue someone will step up and take over for me. Until that day, I am committed and will make a difference.
For more information about the Children's Healthy Smile Project, please visit: www.childrenssmileproject.org