How America’s ToothFairy Turns Kids into Oral Health Action Heroes
Robin Vann is ridding the world of tooth decay, one young advocate at a time.
Robin Vann is the national programs manager at America’s ToothFairy, which in a lot of ways makes her a real-life version of the actual tooth fairy. Going on seven years with the organization, Vann works with nonprofit clinics across the country that provide low- and no-cost services to underserved children in their communities. Children from low-income families are twice as likely to have cavities, and kids who have poor oral health miss more school and receive lower grades than those who don’t. That’s what makes America’s ToothFairy’s mission — to give every child a healthy smile — so critical. The funding, products and equipment they’ve provided since launching in 2006 have helped more than 7 million children become what we call Preventists.
How do you activate kids across America to improve their oral health, both now and before COVID-19?
In one program we run, the Scout Patch Program, we ask thousands of Boy and Girl Scouts to to learn about the importance of oral health and how it’s tied to overall health in their local communities. With generous support from DentaQuest, the program awards a badge for completing a set of tasks, honoring kids who’ve educated themselves and others as action heroes. Once a scout completes a series of projects, America’s ToothFairy mails out patches to be presented during an awards ceremony managed by individual troops.
More than 2,000 Scouts had already earned their patches this year before the COVID-19 outbreak made it impossible for troops to meet together to complete their projects. With additional support from DentaQuest, we’re planning a fun way for kids to learn about the importance of taking care of their smiles individually during the summer. By completing a series of online missions, kids can earn their own Oral Health Action HERO status and win great prizes, including a Nintendo® Switch gaming console. We are really excited about this new opportunity to reach more children -- it’s a wonderful summer enrichment activity that helps kids learn about preventing tooth decay while being creative at the same time.
How do kids of different ages participate in the Scout Patch Program?
Kids 10 and under interview friends and family to learn what their beliefs are, and we encourage dental professionals to come speak with their troops so they can hear from an expert about proper techniques and habits. For older troops, well, it’s difficult to teach a teenager. But it’s easy to teach a teenager to teach a younger child, so we ask them to educate kids about what they know about oral health, and hope in the process they’ll educate themselves as well. Troops also collect oral care products and donate them to nonprofits in their communities that they research themselves, like homeless shelters.
Since the Scout Patch program began in 2014, America’s ToothFairy has awarded more than 27,000 patches. The program exploded in popularity this year with more than 900 troops registering to participate. Girl Scout Troop 20617 from Morristown, Tenn., learned from a local dental assistant about good dental hygiene habits and the important role nutrition plays in oral health. Here is an excerpt from a testimonial we saved:
“The scouts really got into the project and even did an additional food demonstration on sugary snacks.” Ten-year old Abby was shocked to learn how much bacteria live in our mouths, while her fellow troop member, Addison was more surprised by the results of using a plaque-disclosing tablet. “I thought I was brushing my teeth good,” she said. “But when we used the tablet, my teeth were pink!” —Amanda, Leader of Troop 20617
How can parents who are home with kids — especially now during the pandemic — work on oral health education?
Parents are the first role models for our children, so make sure you are exhibiting the behaviors you want to see: brushing two times a day, flossing, washing your hands, focusing on nutrition and the impact it has on oral health. And oral health education never stops — parents can occupy their kids with the fun, free printable worksheets at AmericasToothFairy.org/resources.
What work has been the most profound for you over the years?
We work to distribute oral health products to children nationwide, and when we get a toothbrush in the hands of some, they get so emotional: “I finally have my own toothbrush!” It is easy to forget that there are kids and adults out there who’ve never had their own toothbrush — something many of us consider a staple or don’t even consider at all.
We pass toothbrushes out to clinics and communities, sometimes along with prizes. Last year at an event, we had a child who asked, “Can I turn my prize in for another toothbrush?” The need there is so great — it just breaks my heart.