Last year, Running Strong for American Indian Youth® Dreamstarter™ Cristin Haase, a dental school candidate, educated us about the dire need for proper dental care in Indian Country, such as on the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation, particularly among young children.
Christin inspired us to take action, so this summer we are beginning our first “SmileStrong” campaign providing 2,500 Native American children with a SmileStrong kit - a box containing:
- dental floss
- a brushing “timer”
- educational information about the importance of taking care of their teeth properly
In addition to providing thousands of children with the SmileStrong kits we will partner with Delta Dental of South Dakota’s Circle of Smiles program later this summer to bring dental hygienists to the Cheyenne River reservation summer food service program sites operated by Running Strong to improve access to dental prevention services and oral health education.
Why SmileStrong is Needed
According to a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health, the statistics are staggering – the American Indian population suffers the greatest oral health disparities in the U.S., with American Indian children ages 2 – 4 encountering dental cavities at a rate 5 times higher than the national average.
In addition to lacking the basic components for dental health – toothbrush, toothpaste and dental floss – these children eat large amounts of sugary foods and drink sugary sodas which only exacerbate the serious problem.
On top of that, the NIH study reports that American Indian children have limited access to oral health care, with many never even seeing a dentist. Therefore, it’s not hard to understand why dental care is such a serious problem in Indian Country, a problem which needs to be addressed today.
That’s why Running Strong initiated our SmileStrong program to provide children not only with the things they need to protect their teeth today, but to instill in them at an early age the importance of properly taking care of their teeth so they will last them their lifetime.