Dental Tribune USA
A young patient receives a healthy checkup report from Cass Community Dental clinic in Kansas City, Mo., one of 72 nonprofit organizations that receives support from America’s ToothFairy, an organization that switched its focus to meet oral health needs during the pandemic. (Photo: America’s ToothFairy)

Covid won’t stop America’s ToothFairy

By Dental Tribune USA
August 21, 2020

2020 was shaping up to be a stellar year for America’s ToothFairy. As a resource provider for safety-net dental clinics that treat underprivileged children across the country, the organization was making a profound impact. With only half of its fiscal year complete by January 2020, America’s ToothFairy had already doubled its annual goal by procuring more than $1.1 million in donated products for the organization’s Dental Resource Program (DRP) members.

They had added five new organizations to the program, bringing the total to 72 members in 24 states. In February, nine of the members held special “Screen & Clean” events to expand access to care to kids in marginalized communities with grant funding from America’s ToothFairy.

In addition, the organization provided grants to 23 children in need of urgent dental care that cost more than their families could afford and had planned to do more in the months to come. Thousands of children were learning about the importance of oral health through the distribution of education kits to 26 states across the US. And more than 14,000 Scouts were completing oral health education projects. With just over half of the year behind them, they were on track to have one of their best years ever.

And then the pandemic hit.

Member dental clinics were forced to close. Educational outreach events at schools were canceled. Two major fundraising events and more than half of the volunteer Smile Drive collections had to be put on hold indefinitely.

Jill Malmgren, executive director of America’s ToothFairy, quickly recognized that the shutdown would have a devastating impact on their mission if they didn’t take action immediately. “Unfortunately, the economic shutdown has required everyone to make difficult decisions,” she said. “We needed to adapt to overcome the new challenges brought on by the pandemic to meet the changing needs of our nonprofit member clinics, community partners and the children who desperately need their services.”

In March, with most of its members closed except for a few providing emergency care and families sheltering in place at home, the organization shifted its focus from providing resources for the clinics to education initiatives to help kids learn to protect their smiles from decay, even when they couldn’t visit the dentist.

“Prevention has always been a major focus of our mission but it’s especially important with widespread restrictions in place,” Malmgren said. “We updated our website to include an entire page of downloadable educational resources so that parents could use their time at home to teach their children about proper oral hygiene habits and good nutrition.”

From April until the end of June, users reported reaching more than 500,000 children with the educational content. In addition, America’s ToothFairy partnered with DentaQuest to launch a summer learning initiative so kids could complete projects from home to learn about proper oral health on their own.

The organization also encouraged its volunteers to hold virtual Smile Drives to help fund toothbrush donations to feeding programs that reach families facing food insecurity. “Children who don’t have enough to eat and rely on free school lunches are more unlikely to have dental hygiene products in their home,” Malmgren said. “So, it made sense to provide these products to food pantries and schools that continued to deliver meals during the crisis.”

Thanks to online donations and a matched giving offer from SmileMakers, more than 50,000 toothbrushes were distributed to 28 organizations in addition to DRP members to be distributed throughout the summer. (Read more about the organizations that received donations by clicking here.)

What will the next year bring?

“We are deeply concerned about how this pandemic will impact the work of our nonprofit member clinics,” Malmgren answered. “Our members normally operate on far too little, so the shutdown has really hit them hard. Some have reported that they can’t reopen because they are struggling to find and afford the PPE they need to protect their staff and patients, another told us that they had to delay dental care for over 4,000 patients and now have a backlog of patients who need care.”

With so many people out of work, their members anticipate an increase in the number of uninsured patients.

Although some clinics remained open to provide urgent care to keep patients out of the emergency room, many are only beginning to open now at significantly reduced capacity. Some may never reopen. School-based programs must wait until students are allowed to return to school, the only place where hundreds of thousands of children have access to preventive treatments.

America’s ToothFairy is working tirelessly to overcome these additional challenges but still faces some major hurdles. “The majority of our support comes from the dental industry and private donations from dental professionals who are also trying to recover from the shutdown,” Malmgren said. “It’s going to take all of us pulling together to prevent tremendous setbacks to the gains we’ve seen in the oral health of kids living in underserved communities.”

To help make 2021 a success story for America’s ToothFairy and — more importantly — for families in need, contact Jill Malmgren at jmalmgren@ncohf.org for partnership opportunities, or visit americastoothfairy.org/get-involved.

About America’s ToothFairy: National Children’s Oral Health Foundation

As a resource provider, America’s ToothFairy increases access to oral health care by supporting nonprofit clinics and community partners delivering education, prevention and treatment services for underserved children. Since its inception in 2006, America’s ToothFairy has distributed more than $21 million in donated products, educational materials and financial grants to improve oral health outcomes for children and youth in need. For more information, visit AmericasToothFairy.org.

(Source: America’s ToothFairy)

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