She reached into the backseat of her car and pulled out a pair of fairy wings and a pink tutu. In the parking lot of Lincoln Elementary School in Faribault, Minnesota, she removed her sturdy winter coat, even though it was barely 25 degrees outside, in order to get into costume before entering the school. She slipped her arms through the elastic straps that hold her fairy wings tight to her back then stepped into her fluffy tutu, tucking in her bright pink t-shirt, emblazoned with the words “Smile Fairy” in sparkly letters. She hurried back into her coat as the brisk February wind swept around her. Then she loaded up her arms with boxes and bags and headed inside to meet the students who had been eagerly awaiting the arrival of The Smile Fairy all morning.
It was National Children’s Dental Health Month, and this was the 12th time that month that Holly Jorgensen, Collaborative RDH with Let’s Smile, Inc., a nonprofit dental clinic in nearby Owatonna, had donned her Smile Fairy costume while freezing in a school parking lot and rushed inside with toothbrushes, toothpaste and oral health lessons for rural school children. By months end she completed 50 classroom presentations and handed out toothbrushes to 914 students.
While teaching children in preschools and elementary schools about how to take care of their teeth, Holly–errr...TheSmile Fairy–has fielded a lot of questions. “I am usually asked if I can fly since I am wearing my wings,” she told us. “I just laugh and tell them ‘Yes! Of course! I will not fly in the school because I don’t want to hit my head on the ceiling and get hurt. Also, I don’t want to get into trouble by the teachers.’ They tend to like that answer.” But years before, she was asked a tough question that brought tears to her eyes–a question that laid bare the stark reality that many children face.
At the time Holly called herself the Tooth Fairy. “A four year old boy with big brown eyes asked me why I hated him and his family since the Tooth Fairy never visited their house,” she recounted. “Big tears welled up in his eyes as other children chimed in that they received five dollars or more from the Tooth Fairy’s visits. I was at a loss with ideas since I had introduced myself as the Tooth Fairy and now there were children that did not get visits and some that did get visits from the Tooth Fairy. I quickly apologized to the children that never received a visit and gave them extra toothbrushes with toothpaste.”
Since then, Holly changed her name to the Smile Fairy. “Smiles are free and we can spread them to everyone we see!” she explained. “I come out during the day and my cousin the Tooth Fairy comes out at night.” While that solved the problem of a very uncomfortable question for Holly, it didn’t solve the very serious problems faced by the poorer students Holly meets–students who not only don’t get money from the Tooth Fairy, but who also may not have a toothbrush or other essential oral hygiene products in their home.
In Steele County, where Holly works, 13.2 percent of the children live in poverty, nearly 40 percent receive free or reduced lunches at school, and 24 percent are enrolled in Medical Assistance. But, despite having access to dental care through the state’s Medicaid program, only 23.5 percent of the children enrolled received preventive dental services in the previous year. Like many states across the country, Minnesota has a lack of dental providers accepting Medicaid. In addition, families may not have transportation to travel to access dental care or parents may not be allowed time off of work to take children to dental appointments during regular dental office times.
Holly has discovered that it’s not only the children from poor families who need a visit from the Smile Fairy. Knowledge of proper oral health is lacking even in middle class homes. “I have experienced that children and adolescents think cavities just show up in their teeth,” she told us. “They don’t realize that they can prevent cavities by good daily home care of brushing, flossing, and using fluoride rinse.” Basic lessons about oral health are so crucial for young children in order to establish proper oral health habits that can impact them for the rest of their lives. “That’s why I’m grateful for America’s ToothFairy for all you are doing to provide funding, products, and equipment to help repair broken smiles, and community education tools to help foster healthy habits to last a lifetime!”
Through our Dental Resource Program, which provides resources and product donations to more than 80 nonprofit dental clinics across the country, including Let’s Smile, Inc., dental professionals can expand the number of underserved children who receive dental care and oral health education. Other community volunteers, such as school nurses and teachers, dental students, and even high school students, have taken advantage of the free education resources that are available on our website to help children learn about the importance of taking care of their mouths.
Holly encourages everyone, whether they’re a dental hygienist or not, to volunteer their time in order to address the oral health crisis in America. “My best advice is to have fun! The children know if you are having fun and that energy is evident in the presentation,” she told us. “And yes, lots of coffee is consumed before heading out to the presentations!”
In addition to our ToothFairy 101 Community Education Kit, Holly uses fun and informative books, games, activities, and pictures to help teach children about good oral hygiene and visits to the dentist. “Dr. Seuss’s The Tooth Book teaches children why we have teeth and how to take proper care of them. My First Visit to the Dentist by Eve Marleau explains everything that happens during a dental visit, what plaque is, and how to properly remove it,” she explained.
So, how do you get started? Holly recommends contacting school teachers and asking them if they would like a free oral health presentation to their classrooms. “Hygienists can ask the dental office where they are employed to donate free age appropriate toothbrushes to hand out,” she suggested. Non-dental professionals can hold a Smile Drive to collect oral care products and distribute them wherever low-income children are likely to be, such as Title One schools, Headstart programs, or homeless shelters.
Each year, America's ToothFairy provides program grants to our Dental Resource Program members like Let's Smile Inc. Your donation can help Holly and other oral health advocates across the country reach at-risk kids with preventive and educational services where they live, learn and play.
For more great stories from the past year, check out our 2020 impact report!