Throughout Indian Country Native American children suffer from a concerning lack of dental care resulting in a high rate of cavities, severe tooth pain and even at a very young age, extractions.
While no doubt a diet of sugary foods and soft drinks plays a significant role in tooth decay, much of it could be prevented simply by brushing and flossing their teeth twice daily.
But as we have heard time and time again, for many families living on reservations, such the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, sadly toothpaste, toothbrushes and dental floss are not considered as essential when compared to food, rent, utilities and other basic necessities the must take priority.
And that’s where Running Strong for American Youth® comes in.
Through our Smile Strong program, this year we are working to ship at least 3,000 dental kits containing a 6-month supply of toothpaste, child and adult size toothbrushes and floss to our partners for distribution to those in need in their communities.
Among those who received Smile Strong dental kits last year was the Nebo Title VI Indian Education program in Spanish Fork, Utah, which last fall distributed 200 kits.
“We have several children being raised by grandparents and single parents, so the struggle is real when trying to clothe young ones for school, plus providing all the other basic necessities,” explained program director Eileen Quintana.
Eileen told us of about one grandmother raising her grandchildren who is very involved in their lives, signing them up for summer school, dance classes and more to give them every opportunity for success.
“She is a powerful advocate for her children, and for our program,” says Eileen. “She volunteers for all of the activities and socials scheduled for summer school.
“I was so happy to see them get fitted for shoes, socks, dental kits and COVID supplies since I know this helped their family!”
“Keh means ‘kinship’ in Navajo, your organization Running Strong permeates this traditional concept in your ability to share needed items for the most vulnerable within our communities,” she told us. “Keh is shown through actions, for not only people but environment, water, land, mountains, air, animals etc. It is a concept that our non-native people need to learn.”
In Sallisaw, Oklahoma, the Brushy Cherokee Community Action Association distributed 150 Smile Strong dental kits last fall at its back-to-school event.
“The Brushy area has several grandparents raising children,” reported Brushy treasurer Robin Hickman. “The families are quite large and the expense for many of the items is more than families can afford.
“The dental kits, diapers and socks were a surprise to many this year and needed by many families,” said Robin. “It’s incredible to see the peace that comes from having assistance.
“All participants, from volunteers to each child, are changed by all Running Strong does for so many families.”
In Colorado, one mother told the Denver Indian Family Resource Center after receiving dental kits: “I have a lot of people living under my roof, nine people total, and money is tight! I didn’t have any extra money to get toothbrushes for my family, and the dental kits were much needed for us.”
And in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, where our long-term partner the Yuchi Language Project which is working to preserve its native tongue by instilling it in young tribal children, project administrator Halay Turning Heart told us that during COVID-19 many of their students and families are struggling and dental kits are among the items that help them take care of their families.
“We use the dental kits to help the children learn how to brush their teeth in the Yuchi language,” Halay reported. “The little kids are excited to learn how to use the items and take care of themselves!”