SmileStrong This Spring: Promoting Healthy, Happy Smiles Throughout Indian Country

The American Dental Association (ADA) is taking steps to help those who have among the highest levels of tooth decay in the United States: American Indian and Alaska Native children.

And so is Running Strong for American Indian Youth®.

In 2015, we were made acutely aware of this serious, and growing, challenge among Native children throughout Indian Country by our Dreamstarter Cristin Haase, then a promising dental student who is now a practicing dentist serving American Indian communities.

“The level of tooth decay among American Indian and Alaska Native children is more than four times higher than white non-Hispanic children,” reported the ADA in 2017, citing Indian Health Service data from 2015.*

And the numbers are staggering:

“More than half, 54 percent, of this population of children between 1 and 5 years of age have experienced tooth decay,” states the ADA.

Four years ago, Running Strong decided to take action to help prevent tooth decay among Native children by initiating our “SmileStrong” program, which since its inception has been providing dental kits containing toothbrushes, toothpaste and dental floss to well over 10,000 children.

These children and their families know very well the benefits of regular brushings and flossing, particularly those who have experienced serious tooth decay and severe pain – but simply lack access to the necessary tools to care for and protect their teeth.

Within the next few weeks, 3,000 SmileStrong dental kits will be shipped to 18 of our program partners throughout Indian Country, such as Brushy Cherokee Action Association in Oklahoma, Interfaith Action Department of Indian Work, the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, Spirit Lake Tribal Health in North Dakota, and, of course, our own field office, Tipi Waste Un Zanipi (Wellness Through a Good Home), on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

“These items are needed because a large majority of the people in the Brushy area and surrounding communities live in poverty,” reported Gary Bolin, chairman of the Brushy Cherokee Action Association in his request for SmileStrong kits, adding that many times families cannot afford basic necessities such as toothbrushes and toothpaste.

And we know the need for the SmileStrong kits is great:

“The dental kits were a huge hit that last time we distributed them,” reported Kathy Denman-Wilke, director, Department of Indian Work, Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul.

And thanks to our supporters, together each year we are helping to create happy, healthy smiles and instill healthy habits among Native children.

*To read more about the ADA article visit: https://www.ada.org/en/publications/ada-news/2017-archive/may/tackling-tooth-decay-in-american-indian-and-alaska-native-children.

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