In 2015, Running Strong for American Indian Youth® Dreamstarter™ Cristin Haase (Cheyenne River Lakota), then a dental school candidate and today a dentist treating Native children, educated us about the dire need for proper dental care in Indian Country, particularly among young children.
Cristin inspired us to take action, so in 2016 we initiated our “SmileStrong” campaign providing thousands of Native American children with a box containing a toothbrush, a six-month supply of toothpaste, dental floss, and educational information about the importance of taking care of their teeth properly, as well as a 2-minute hourglass timer ensuring they know EXACTLY how long they need to brush.
According to Delta Dental of South Dakota, the state’s American Indian children experience some of the worst oral health disparities in the country. In fact, preschool children within the Aberdeen Area Indian Health Service, which includes South Dakota, have the highest tooth decay rate of any population group in the country.
And throughout Indian Country, the situation is no better as 2014 Indian Health Service Oral Health Survey reported that “76 percent (more than three out of four!) American Indian/Alaska Native children have experienced dental decay by the age of 5.”
And as we have for the past several years, this month, thanks to the supporters of Running Strong we will be shipping out 3,000 SmileStrong dental kits across the country, including to our field office Tipi Waste Un Zanipi (Wellness Through A Good Home) on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and several of our partners throughout Indian Country.
We are well aware of the importance of providing Native children with the “tools for teeth” they need to not only keep their teeth and mouth healthy for a day, a week, a month, or even a year, but to inspire in them the importance of brushing every day for the rest of their lives ensuring for healthy, happy smiles for a lifetime!