Kids improve smiles after fun, energetic dental health show

Photos by Sid Hastings

"Brush! Brush! Brush!" shouted students in unison at the St. Louis Catholic Academy gymnasium, pumping their arms above their heads.

The kindergarten through third-grade students giggled as the "Tooth Wizard" emerged from behind a curtain. It's all part of Delta Dental's Land of Smiles program, which has reached 750,000 children through 3,600 school-based performances since 2002. The tour with two cast members is visiting 300 schools this academic year, stopping at St. Louis Catholic Academy in north St. Louis among other archdiocesan schools.

The Tooth Wizard taught children how to brush, floss and use mouthwash to remove plaque — represented by another character, PlaqueMan, who was greeted with jeers.

The interactive show included two student volunteers dressing up as teeth and helping the Tooth Wizard demonstrate flossing between teeth and rinsing with mouthwash. Schoolmates yelled "Hooray" after PlaqueMan was chased away with a bucket of swishing streamers representing mouthwash. The characters also discussed what foods are good and bad for teeth and the importance of visiting a dentist.

After the program, the students easily answered the Tooth Wizard's review questions.

According to Becky Schmidt, national account manager for Delta Dental, the nonprofit organization's mission is community outreach. The Land of Smiles program is free for schools, but students in the archdiocesan mission schools received additional resources. Each child went home with a bag containing a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, educational coloring sheet and mirror decal reminding them to brush twice daily as well as dental supplies for family members. Teachers also received a curriculum guide with six lessons.

"These kids will go home tonight and they will tell their parents, 'I cannot go to bed yet, I have not brushed my teeth,'" Schmidt said. "We hear that time and time again."

Delta Dental of Missouri also connects with the school on its Give Kids a Smile program, which provides underserved children with free, comprehensive dental care including examinations, professional cleanings, fluoride treatments, sealants, restorations, oral surgery and X-rays. Children through eighth grade are eligible if they are Medicaid qualified and/or qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches at school. The program also provides roundtrip transportation for the children to the St. Louis University Center for Advanced Dental Education.

The clinic operates twice a year with volunteer dentists and staff. 

Partnership pays off

Various departments and offices of the archdiocese are supporting the four schools operated by the archdiocesan Catholic Education Office.

The inclusion of the schools in the Land of Smiles program of Delta Dental of Missouri is an outgrowth of that outreach, which began with a suggestion by Patrick O'Donnell, project manager of the archdiocese's Office of Information Technology. The archdiocean Office of Human Resources used its employee benefit vendor partnership with Denlta Dental to coordinate the show at the archdiocesan schools during March. The archdiocese's Safe Environment Program coordinated a coat drive during December for the schools.

The schools, all in St. Louis City, are St. Louis Catholic Academy, St. Cecilia, Most Holy Trinity and St. Louis the King at the Cathedral.

Gloria Openlander, principal of St. Louis Catholic Academy, said the partnership with the archdiocesan employees has been phenomenal. "It's been a blessing. They have furnished winter coats for our children. We have received copy paper for the year, they've had volunteers paint our kitchen and we're working on other projects such as bulletin boards."

The school in north St. Louis also is bolstered by some 20 volunteers from Our Lady of the Pillar Parish in Creve Coeur who serve as tutors. The more partnerships the school can form, Openlander said, "the more resources we will have for our children."

St. Louis Catholic Academy, as part of the archdiocesan elementary school model, has several tuition-assistance programs for families, so a lack of financial resources should not be a deterrent to a Catholic school education, Openlander said. An evangelization component also is important, she said.

Delta Dental provides flyers to the mission schools so they can make their school community aware of the dental clinic for the underserved. 

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