Quick. Name the most common chronic illness in children
Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or autism?
Nope. The answer is tooth decay.
The U.S. Surgeon General reports tooth decay in children is five times more common than asthma and seven times more common than hay fever.
Students in the Howard University College of Dentistry and pre-dental students at the University have joined with other students across the city – and the nation – to address the challenge of tooth decay in children.
Howard students, along with pre-dental students at Georgetown and George Washington Universities and Friendship Collegiate Academy in Northwest, are now part of the Students United for America’s ToothFairy program. Students at American and Catholic universities are also working with the program.
The effort, one of the National Children’s Oral Health Foundation’s signature programs, encourages graduate, undergraduate and high school students to become oral health mentors to children and youth.
High schools and universities across the nation have created their own chapters with the purpose of eliminating pediatric dental disease.
“A major obstacle in tackling pediatric dental disease is getting the community to view oral health as an integral part of their overall health,” Tiereny Lloyd said. "Raising awareness of this silent but preventable epidemic has been my biggest campaign.”
Lloyd is manager of the D.C. Metropolitan Oral Health Zone and oversees all Students United for America’s ToothFairy programs in the D.C. area.
The “tooth fairies” go to community centers and schools where they teach children and youth positive oral hygiene techniques.
Howard University junior biology major Jessica Williams said the community service is more fun than work.
“It’s always really interesting when we do a presentation,” Williams said. “When kids hear we’re talking about healthcare, they think they don’t need to listen. They already know how to brush their teeth.”
But Williams and Laura Kaye, co-president of the George Washington University Pre-dental Society, enjoy how receptive and engaged students become when they discover that there is more to the mouth than simply brushing your teeth.
“Continuing to send the message of oral healthcare is very valuable and very important,” Kaye said.
According to Kaye and Williams, many people are shocked at how oral healthcare impacts the rest of the body. The program teaches those lessons through interactive activities, demonstrations and real-life experiences.
One of the most gripping stories is of Diamonte Driver, a 12-year old Prince George’s County boy who died in 2007 after a tooth infection spread to his brain.
“We inspire kids to change,” Williams said. “We explain to them why they should change, and even if they don’t, at least we’ve given them something to think about.”
The Howard University pre-dental chapter of the program plans to focus on doing more projects in the Shaw-Howard community and hope to become role models for the area.
“At the very least, we would like to provide an example of another career option that some students may have never even thought possible for people who look like them,” Williams said.
For more information onAmerica’s ToothFairy, visit www.americastoothfairy.org.