Poor oral health and tooth decay can cause discomfort and result in young students having difficulty participating or concentrating in school. Nearly 40 percent of children in Illinois have had a cavity in the past year, and about 1 in 5 kids in Illinois has untreated tooth decay.1 To help kids learn about the importance of good oral health and how to fight decay, Tooth Wizard and PlaqueMan with the Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation’s Land of Smiles program will visit pre-kindergarten through third-grade students throughout the state this fall.
Although largely preventable with good oral health habits, the U.S. Surgeon General identifies tooth decay as the most common chronic childhood disease. Illinois children’s oral health habits could use improvement. According to the 2018 Delta Dental of Illinois Children’s Oral Health Survey, more than 43 percent of Illinois children brush their teeth once a day or less and nearly three-quarters floss their teeth less than once a day.1
“Our recent Children’s Oral Health Survey shows that Illinois children can greatly benefit from oral health education, which is a part of our mission,” said Lora Vitek, director of philanthropy and community relations, Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation. “Land of Smiles helps children learn about the importance of taking care of their teeth in a fun way. By teaching them why brushing, flossing and using mouthwash with fluoride should be parts of their daily routine, we hope to reduce the number of young children with cavities or poor oral health.”
Students will begin their oral health journey by helping the heroic Tooth Wizard defeat his arch nemesis, PlaqueMan, by learning the habits needed to have healthy smiles and bodies. Children will get involved in the fun during the interactive performance, helping demonstrate how to correctly brush, floss and use fluoride rinse causing PlaqueMan to scurry off the stage in defeat. The free Land of Smiles program also teaches children the importance of eating smile-friendly foods, visiting the dentist regularly and having sealants applied.
The Land of Smiles program seeks to combat poor oral health. Oral Health in Illinois, released in 2016 and sponsored by Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation and others, found that poor oral health is one of the most pressing, unmet health care issues facing Illinois children – particularly for those living in poverty and rural areas. In fact, the report found that one-third of Illinois children in rural areas have untreated tooth decay, and Illinois children living in poverty are five times more likely to have fair or poor oral health.2
“Prevention is key to reducing and eliminating tooth decay,” said Vitek. “Oral health education provided by the Land of Smiles program helps children keep their smiles healthy to prevent tooth decay in the first place, so they can avoid missing school due to oral health problems.”
In addition to the oral health lesson, children who participate in Land of Smiles will receive an oral health kit with a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss and a booklet packed with oral health tips. Schools will also receive a curriculum kit to help educators reinforce good oral health habits with students throughout the year.
In 2018, the Land of Smiles program will reach nearly 38,000 pre-kindergarten through third-grade students in nearly 175 Illinois elementary schools throughout the state. The program has reached over 375,000 students at more than 800 Illinois schools in the past 12 years.
1 Delta Dental of Illinois Children’s Oral Health Survey, 2018. Kelton, a leading global insights firm, performed the survey. Interviews were conducted statewide via email with 150 Illinois parents of children ages 12 and under. For results based on the total sample of Illinois adults, the margin of error is +/- 8% at a 95 percent confidence level.
2 Oral Health in Illinois Report, 2016.