‘Land of Smiles’ helps Rockford students brush up on dental health

Tooth Wizard and PlaqueMan, two characters from Delta Dental of Illinois’ Land of Smiles program, teach elementary school students how to take care of their teeth and the importance of good oral health. (Photo provided)

Staff Report

Illinois children need to improve their brushing and flossing habits, as well as visit the dentist more often, according to a survey by Delta Dental of Illinois. As a way to educate Rockford pre-kindergarten through third-grade students about these important oral health habits, the Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation’s “Land of Smiles” program was at Kishwaukee Elementary School May 10.

During the program, provided free to Illinois schools by the Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation, Tooth Wizard battled his arch-enemy PlaqueMan for the health of kids’ smiles. Students learned the proper techniques for taking care of their oral health and why good oral health is so important.

Although tooth decay is nearly 100 percent preventable, it is the most common chronic disease affecting children in Illinois. According to the 2008-2009 Healthy Smile Healthy Growth assessment conducted by the Illinois Department of Public Health, 53 percent of Illinois third-graders have experienced dental cavities. Among those children, 29 percent have untreated cavities and 5 percent have cavities that need urgent dental treatment.

If we can help children understand the importance of good oral health and how to take care of their teeth at an early age, the benefits will last a lifetime,” said Lora Vitek, director of philanthropy and community relations for the Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation. “‘Land of Smiles’ is a fun way to get kids excited about dental care and helps further our mission to improve the oral health of people in Illinois.”

As part of the educational program, students helped Tooth Wizard teach the proper way to brush and floss on an oversized mouth with a giant toothbrush. While PlaqueMan tried to disrupt the kids’ healthy habits, Tooth Wizard educated them about tooth-friendly foods and the importance of visiting the dentist twice a year.

The Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation gave kids who attended the program a goody bag with oral health supplies, and each participating school received a curriculum kit to help reinforce good oral health habits with its students. Following are some of the oral health habits that fall short of what’s recommended by Delta Dental of Illinois and Tooth Wizard, according to the dental benefit company’s survey of 151 Illinois caregivers:

• Only 56 percent of Illinois children’s teeth are brushed twice a day and 30 percent are brushed for less than 2 minutes. Children’s teeth should be brushed twice a day for at least 2 minutes each time.

• Forty-four percent of respondents with children who have teeth report the teeth are never flossed, and of children whose teeth are flossed, only 19 percent are flossed daily. Once any two teeth are touching, caregivers should help children floss once a day.

• Only 62 percent of Illinois children who have visited the dentist have been twice in the past 12 months. Children should visit the dentist at least twice a year.

We are excited about the opportunity to help educate Illinois children about these good oral health habits,” Vitek said. “But it’s extremely important that parents and caregivers are also establishing and reinforcing these same habits at home.”

This year, nearly 30,000 pre-kindergarten through third-grade students in more than 100 Illinois elementary schools will enjoy the “Land of Smiles” program. The program has reached nearly 180,000 students at more than 600 Illinois schools over the past six years.

From the May 22-28, 2013, issue

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