Tooth decay affects more children than any other chronic disease, with children from the lowest socioeconomic groups impacted at a significantly higher rate1. Untreated tooth decay can lead to adverse outcomes, including inhibiting a child’s ability to eat, learn, play, and speak. With such a detrimental impact to a child’s overall health, it is not surprising that students miss 51 million school hours in the U.S. each year due to oral health related problems2.
Unfortunately, disparities in access to dental care remain a challenge for many children and families, with nearly 17 million children going without dental care each year3. To bridge this alarming gap, SmileConnect.org was designed to help communities better connect families in need with preventive oral health services.
A Social Networking Solution:
Launched in February 2016, SmileConnect℠, an Altarum Institute program, seeks to utilize existing dental resources and workforce capacity to fulfill the need for oral health education, services, and resources for children nationwide. Licensed dental professionals, as well as students in dental and dental hygiene schools, often volunteer their time in local communities and serve as valuable resources for education and preventive services. SmileConnect℠ offers a unique platform that allows educators and community organizations to post requests for oral health resources and services, which are then viewable by those who can directly connect with them to fulfill the need.
SmileConnect’s℠ Impact in Michigan:
Since its launch, SmileConnect℠ has received numerous requests from a wide range of organizations including schools, Head Start programs, WIC clinics, and pediatric offices in some of the most high need areas in the state. Several of these requests have already been fulfilled; impacting over 1,500 children in just a few short months.
SmileConnect℠ was recently presented with an exciting opportunity to provide oral health kits and volunteers for the American Indian Health and Family Services Pow Wow held in Detroit on August 27th. The event brought together a diverse group of community members, including families from the American Indian, immigrant and refugee populations.
The Pow Wow offered a locale for attendees to learn about American Indian culture, enjoy music and games, and receive health and wellness checks, such as flu shots and blood pressure checks. Attendees also had the chance to learn about the importance of oral health and to receive donated dental kits to take home; something that would not have been provided without SmileConnectSM.
Participants at the Pow Wow eagerly approached the SmileConnect℠ booth excited to receive an oral health goodie bag and oral health education provided by a University of Detroit Mercy dental student, Ayah Koleilat. SmileConnect℠ would not be possible without the generous donations and volunteers willing to give back to the community, which are a key component to success. Thanks to our partners at Benco Family Foundation and Delta Dental Foundation, the goodie bags contained toothbrushes, fluoride toothpaste, floss, and educational materials—resources that many families often go without. Having a dental student in attendance was invaluable, as she was able to educate booth visitors on the basics of oral health and prevention of tooth decay. Ms. Koleilat notes,
“To me, dental school isn’t about only spending long nights at school studying or working in the simlab, it is also about applying what I have learned to help serve others. Being able to volunteer at events such as the American Indian Health and Family Services Health Fair is truly rewarding. Seeing the simple joy of many people receiving an oral health kit and being able to talk with them about their oral health reminds me of why I chose dentistry. Working with SmileConnect℠ was a great experience, and I know I will be contacting them for future events and collaborations. They are reaching out to so many schools and communities, providing the supplies and resources needed to improve oral health and awareness.”
Without the SmileConnectSM request made by American Indian Health and Family Services, there would not have been an oral health component to the Pow Wow event. Nearly 300 people attended the Pow Wow, leaving a substantial impact on the community. Events like this are needed in communities across the nation to help bridge gaps and connect individuals to the resources they need to develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Nationwide Expansion Through Partnership:
In response to SmileConnect’s℠ success in Michigan, Altarum Institute is currently executing a national expansion strategy. Already, SmileConnect℠ has partnered with dental and dental hygiene schools across 8 states (MI, NE, MS, OH, ME, AZ, KS, TX ) to help facilitate oral health resources and services to children in need, and will continue to partner and expand with additional schools and organizations across the nation in the coming months. Additionally, we partner with philanthropic organizations and other oral health focused efforts to support SmileConnect’s℠ continued expansion and development, to distribute donated oral health supplies and resources, and to cross-promote and mutually strengthen complementary oral health initiatives. By empowering individuals to establish preventive oral health habits at an early age, we are able to fight against the most common chronic disease among children: tooth decay.
If you are interested in getting involved or would like to learn ways to help support the sustainability of SmileConnect℠ efforts, please email info@SmileConnect.org or visit our website here. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook: @SmileConnected.
CMS Disclaimer: The project described was supported by Grant Number 1C1CMS331321 from the Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The contents of this publication are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or any of its agencies.
1. Pew Charitable Trusts. (2012, February). A costly dental destination. Retrieved from http://www.pewtrusts.org/~/media/Assets/2012/01/16/A-Costly-Dental-Destination.pdf.
2. National Children’s Oral Health Foundation. Facts About Tooth Decay. Retrieved from: http://www.ncohf.org/resources/tooth-decay-facts
3. The Pew Charitable Trusts. (2010). The Cost of Delay: State Dental Policies Fail One in Five Children. Retrieved from: http://www.pewtrusts.org/~/media/legacy/uploadedfiles/costofdelaywebpdf.pdf