Good oral health begins in childhood. But many children don’t have access to oral healthcare, nor do they have the tools or education they need to take care of their teeth themselves. In 2006, the National Children’s Oral Health Foundation: America’s ToothFairy formed to provide an aggressive, collaborative response to these challenges and eliminate children’s preventable suffering from pediatric dental disease. Now, Jill Malmgren is taking the reins as executive director of the nonprofit organization as it faces these issues and more in 2017.
“It’s a problem that we know how to solve. There’s a solution out there,” Malmgren said. “It’s just a matter of engaging the dental community, and they’ve been so wonderful and supportive, and building upon that as well as promoting oral health to educate the public about its importance. Oral health often has been overlooked, and it’s so critical to one’s overall health. So there’s a great opportunity to really impact lives.”
Malmgren joined America’s ToothFairy in 2011 and worked in communications for the group before assuming the role of chief operating officer. During her tenure, she has overseen operations, strengthened relationships with key stakeholders, implemented systems to improve efficiency, and spearheaded new programs that contributed to the organization’s ability to expand services for vulnerable children and engage youth in oral health promotion. As executive director, she is replacing founding president and CEO Fern Ingber, who has retired.
“I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Fern for 10 years and working with her closely for 5. I think she’s just been a real innovator, a very larger than life individual, very passionate about the cause, and very committed,” said Malmgren. “She’s been a tremendous influence in this world and should be commended for her great work and how she’s really grown this organization to have it reach the point it’s reached today, and I look forward to certainly continuing that work and taking it to new heights.”
One of the primary goals of America’s ToothFairy is to connect children who don’t have access to oral healthcare with practitioners who can provide it. These families typically are unable to see a dentist because they don’t have the insurance to pay for treatment. Or, parents may be unable to take time off from work, or they lack transportation to get to the dentist. In some cases, parents simply don’t know how to navigate the healthcare system.
“There’s a gap that’s forming where these kids are unable to get the care they need. They may or may not qualify for a particular aid. We’ve got children in areas where maybe there aren’t dental services available,” said Malmgren. “There’s such a maze of information, it’s quite chaotic. So one of the things that we’ve been trying to do to overcome that is working with other agencies and organizations that interact with those children to help make those connections.”
The America’s ToothFairy Affiliate Network of community-based dental clinics and outreach programs provides dental care and education services to hundreds of thousands of these at-risk children each year. Since its inception, America’s ToothFairy has delivered more than $17 million in direct funding, donated dental products, and educational resources to its partners in the network to reach millions of children with preventive, restorative, and educational services.
“We connect with Boys and Girls Clubs or shelters and other organizations that serve children to help make that connection,” Malmgren said. “And we’re working with them to provide them with oral care products, provide them and their families with information on basic preventive care. And then, of course, what we want to do more of is finding ways to connect those children with the services they need.”
In fact, America’s ToothFairy notes, thousands of children across the United States either share a toothbrush with their siblings or don’t have one at all. That’s why the group calls February its National Children’s Dental Health Month, spotlighted by Smile Drives across the country. These programs collect products such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss, rinse, and more to distribute to local nonprofit organizations serving vulnerable populations.
“It’s a great way to give back to your local community and a fun way to participate and raise awareness of oral health and get people involved and talking about it and help people understand there’s a real need there,” said Malmgren, who noted that dental practices can collect items for a nearby America’s ToothFairy affiliate or for really any other group that serves children. “It’s also an area where we can make a difference.”
Donations don’t just come from individual practitioners and practices, though. America’s ToothFairy also works with companies such as GC America, SS White, Cosmedent, and A-dec to provide equipment and items in bulk. And with recent research showing that sealants can decrease tooth decay in children by as much as 80%, these goods can go a long way in ensuring the oral health of the children who benefit from them.
“Septodont is wonderful, donating ToothFairy sealants to our affiliate network so that they can provide sealants to the children they serve. We are very grateful they provide tremendous amounts of that product to support those initiatives,” said Malmgren. “Certainly we agree there’s a tremendous opportunity there to really provide that type of service. It’s very much needed. And I want to see what we can do to support and grow that endeavor.
Education is key to the America’s ToothFairy mission too. The Kids Club supplies educational activities, oral healthcare tips, and personalized letters from the Tooth Fairy to children, all for free. The #MySmileMatters Youth Movement challenges middle and high school organizations to take the lead in promoting oral health. America’s ToothFairy even offers patches for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts who serve as oral health ambassadors.
These programs and others that America’s ToothFairy provides, however, benefit from the financial generosity of the dental community and industry. One of the organization’s biggest fundraisers is its ToothFairy Ball & Online Auction, held in November. Individuals and companies purchase virtual “tables,” with the funding used to award grants to the group’s affiliates that support their individual missions.
Sponsorships also are available, with Dr. Gordon Christensen, Henry Schein, Invisalign, James Ingebrand, Thomas & JoAnn Prescott, and TSC EcoSolutions contributing $10,000 each in 2016. Plus, many companies donated items to be auctioned, with bids starting at bargain prices. This year’s gear included a Bien Air iChiropro implant system, a Pioneer Elite Laser from Patterson Dental Supply, a Ritter M3 UltraFast Automatic Sterilizer from Midmark, a Cavitron Plus Ultrasonic Scaler from Dentsply Sirona, and a NOMAD handheld x-ray unit from KaVo Kerr.
“We have been very, very fortunate. Many of our underwriters provided great support, both in table sponsorships and in the items for the auction. The money goes to benefit the different affiliates that we work with throughout the nation to support endeavors that are serving children in need,” Malmgren said. “Right now those grant proposals are under review, but there’s a myriad of them.”
In fact, Malmgren and America’s ToothFairy invite practitioners and other dental organizations to get involved in any way they can, participating as bidders or donors in the auction, taking part in a Smile Drive, celebrating National Children’s Dental Health month in February in their own practices, or becoming part of the Affiliate Network themselves. Plus, the Practice of Distinction program provides participating dentists with educational and marketing materials they can use to promote oral health.
“I think we’ve got a lot of exciting things coming up for us,” said Malmgren, who added that interested dentists can visit the group’s booth and Celebration of the Smiles event at the Chicago Midwinter Meeting in February. “One of the things we’re continuing to see is the growing need for dental services and doing more in the ways of connecting those children with care, making sure that they receive the care that they deserve.”