According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tooth decay goes untreated in nearly one third of all adults in the United States, and one in seven of those between the ages of 35 and 44 has a form of gum disease. So, why are we still dealing with these conditions when they're preventable? Prevention starts with education, and here are three organizations that are improving dental health for families in many communities through exemplary oral health education initiatives.
Alliance of the American Dental Association
The Alliance of the American Dental Association (AADA), along with the American Dental Association and Henry Schein Cares, is confronting the epidemic of baby bottle tooth decay – or cavities during early childhood – with their Healthy Smiles from the Start program. Educational materials, offered in English and Spanish, address dental issues affecting pregnant women and their kids from birth and throughout early childhood. By collaborating with prenatal and postnatal educational programs in hospitals and birthing centers, Healthy Smiles gives expecting moms a toolkit with information to help them prevent baby bottle tooth decay and to encourage them to visit the dentist during pregnancy.
The AADA's focus is just not on children; its Senior Smiles initiative is an awareness program to educate seniors about the importance of taking care of their teeth as they age. Senior Smiles has distributed 39,000 dental health kits, containing dental products and dental information to the elderly in 35 states.
Colgate Bright Smiles, Bright Futures
As a company, Colgate's dedication to oral health goes beyond producing safe and effective dental products. The organization also makes a difference in the dental health of children around the world through its Bright Smiles, Bright Futures® initiative. In fact, more than a half-billion children and their families in 80 countries have benefited from Colgate's free dental screenings and oral health education curriculum.
Available in 30 languages, Colgate's educational materials teach children how to keep their teeth and gums healthy. In the United States, classroom curriculum reaches 3.5 million children in all 50 states, and the Bright Smiles website offers educational materials for parents, kids and dental professionals.
Professional volunteers, using Colgate's fleet of mobile dental vans, provide free dental checkups to more than 10 million children (three to 12 years old) in underserved areas of the United States. Volunteers examine each child's teeth and give referrals if they need to visit a dentist, as well as a bag of Colgate dental goodies: a kid-size toothbrush and toothpaste, such as a Colgate® Dora The Explorer™ set, and information on proper brushing. Visit the website for times when the van may be visiting your community.
Oral Health America
Founded in 1955, Oral Health America (OHA) is a Chicago-based not-for-profit with four unique programs that unite communities with resources to expand access to dental care and oral health education – not just for children, but also for older adults who are equally vulnerable to oral disease.
- Smiles Across America® (SAA) provides prevention services – sealants, fluoride varnishes and dental health education – to over 400,000 underserved children in 35 states. Aside from providing community partners with grant writing assistance and communication tools, SSA distributes over 500,000 units of dental products every year.
- Wisdom Tooth Project® is a website designed to connect older adults or their caregivers to relevant dental health information. This site also directs older adults to affordable care through links to local services.
- National Spit Tobacco Education Program (NSTEP®) educates young people about the health risks of using smokeless or chewing tobacco products. This program hopes to prevent young people from starting to use these products and assists all users in quitting.
- Campaign for Oral Health Equity is a program that advocates for policies that improve the nation's health by prioritizing oral health conditions alongside other serious medical conditions. The focus on oral health equity not only encompasses dental health, but also nutrition, tobacco cessation and avoidance.
Healthy oral health habits don't come naturally; they're learned. And thanks to the many organizations committing their time and resources to education and access to care, more kids will have smiling, cavity-free faces and more older adults will keep their teeth throughout their lifetime.