(Charlotte, NC, August 29, 2023) Since 2006 America’s ToothFairy has provided everything from donated cabinetry to curing lights to stickers for the young patients of safety-net dental clinics serving children in communities that lack oral health resources. But after witnessing numerous accounts of children who do not have a toothbrush or who must share one with their family members, we knew we had to do more.
“It’s jarring every time I hear of another child who doesn’t have a simple toothbrush,” America’s ToothFairy executive director, Jill Malmgren said. “One particular child who comes to mind is a little boy who had received a dental goody bag at an oral health event at his school. The bag included a small toy that he wanted to trade for another toothbrush for his younger sister at home. Neither child had a toothbrush, and after learning about the importance of daily brushing, he was willing to give up his toy so that his sister could brush her teeth too. It breaks your heart.”
In February 2014, we launched Smile Drive, a nationwide campaign that encourages volunteers to collect toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss, and other dental hygiene supplies to donate to local organizations serving families in need.
“Initially the Smile Drive ran during National Children’s Dental Health Month so that volunteers could deliver their donations in time for World Oral Health Day on March 20th,” Malmgren added. “But since then, we’ve expanded it to a year-long campaign because there is such a great need, not only for the oral hygiene products, but also to build awareness about the need for healthy dental hygiene habits at home.”
Since its launch ten years ago, more than 2.4 million oral care products have been distributed at safety-net dental clinics, Title 1 schools, free screening events, foster care programs, homeless shelters, food banks, and other organizations that help families in crisis thanks to the Smile Drive campaign.
The families that benefit from the donations are typically from low-income homes but occasionally the need arises for entire communities impacted by natural disasters such as hurricanes or tornadoes. Most recently, victims displaced by the Maui wildfires received toothbrushes thanks to an elementary school student from Corpus Christi, Texas.
When Vivienne Hill, age 10, heard about the devastation in Maui, she was immediately concerned for her friend Moena. The girls had been fast friends since meeting at a Miss Elementary America National Pageant two years ago. After reading the list of items needed for the impacted families in Maui, Vivienne, the daughter of a dentist, registered her Smile Drive and rallied her friends to give.
In less than 48 hours she raised $700 and had 400 toothbrushes already on the way to Maui through an Amazon wish list she set up as part of her drive. She also received donations of toothbrushes and toothpaste from friends and family who live nearby. By the end of her Smile Drive, Vivienne had collected more than 1,200 oral care products from her family and friends.
With the funds raised through Vivienne’s Smile Drive, America’s ToothFairy will send an additional 1,488 toothbrushes to Konawaena Elementary School in Kealakekua, Hawaii to be distributed to local families in need.
“Sometimes it takes a disaster for people to see those in need, but the reality is there are families who are silently struggling right now everywhere,” Malmgren added. “When a family has to choose between buying a meal or buying dental hygiene supplies, or simply doesn’t understand that the bacteria that cause cavities can be spread by sharing a toothbrush, tooth decay is almost inevitable. Its consequences contribute to the cycle of poverty.”
This year, from January to April, we will celebrate the Smile Drive campaign’s 10th anniversary with special games, prizes, and promotions. However, you don’t have to wait to get involved. The 2024 Smile Drive campaign runs from now until June 30, 2024. To find out how to participate or donate to the campaign, visit SmileDrive.org.