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Working Together to Brighten San Francisco’s Smiles

Photo Credit: Rachel Garber

Ed. Note: Rachel Garber is a writer and photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Sesame Street was in San Francisco last week to catch some of the annual October sunshine that gets San Franciscans through its famously cold summers. On Oct. 16, students at ER Taylor Elementary chattered excitedly to each other on the blacktop, but not about the weather: They were talking about their teeth.

“I brush for three minutes—not two, just to be safe,” one 5th grader bragged to his friends as his class waited to have their teeth examined by volunteer dentists. Their school participated in a three-day dental screening program Oct. 15-17 in San Francisco, as part of the American Dental Association’s (ADA) Give Kids a Smile initiative.

Some 2,000 San Francisco kids received screenings or dental education thanks to the collaboration between the ADA; the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH); the San Francisco Dental Society (SFDS); Colgate’s Bright, Smiles Bright Futures; the National Children’s Oral Health Foundation.  Sesame Workshop took part in these events through our Healthy Teeth, Healthy Me outreach initiative. The ADA distributed over 2,000 of the Healthy Teeth, Healthy Me kits to all of the participating children.

“If you look at Surgeon General’s reports on oral health in America, they outline a pretty grim picture,” said former ADA President, Dr. William Calnon. (Since 2000, the Surgeon General has referred to oral health as the “silent epidemic’ in this country.) Tooth decay is still one of the most frequent problems seen in young children and 50 million school hours are lost every year from dental-related issues.

Photo Credit: Rachel Garber

“For the most part, dental disease is preventable,” continued Dr. Calnon. “The sad thing is people don’t prevent it. Oral health in this country is severely in need of being addressed in a different way.”

With this in mind, organizations from last week’s events collaborated previously to further their own efforts in bringing preventative care directly to young children.

“Since we started our Kindergarten screening program with the Department of Public Health in 2000,” said Deborah Elam, Executive Director of the SFDS, “we’ve seen a significant improvement in Elementary schools overall. We have more work to do, but none of it would have been possible had it not been a collaborative, multi-agency endeavor.”

Students At ER Taylor and Gordon J. Lau Elementary schools were taught healthy dental habits, while having a great time laughing and singing songs with volunteers. At the San Francisco General Hospital, screenings were held for members of the community, including WIC (women, infant and children) families, on Oct 17. Abby Cadabby visited during the screenings to show children her support. Afterwards, children—and their caretakers—waited in the shade of the brick entrance wall for a photo with their friend from Sesame Street.

“Our school has participated in screening events over the last ten or so years,” said Ms. Marlene Callejas, principal at ER Talyor. “This event is special because it reaches so many kids and has been so enjoyable for them. Now when a child goes to the dentist, it will be a positive experience and they won’t be afraid because they’ve had this opportunity here.”

Photo Credit: Rachel Garber

After their screenings and dental education, all of the children were given a complimentary backpack containing a toothbrush and toothpaste, and the Healthy Teeth, Healthy Me kit, which includes an interactive DVD. All the materials in the multimedia, bilingual kit are available to download for free on www.SesameStreet.org/teeth.

“The DVD from Sesame Street is a huge part of all this,” said Dr. Jeffrey Jang, chair of community dental health, San Francisco Dental Society. “During these screenings the kids get dental education but the parents don’t. When they bring this DVD home in their backpacks, the family watches it together and realizes that this is an important issue.”

The ADA and Sesame Workshop also have a history of working together and the ADA served on the advisory board for the Healthy Teeth, Healthy Me initiative.

“The key messages of these organizations are parallel,” said Dr. Calnon. “What we’re trying to do is not just educate, but give caregivers tools with which to change their habits and hopefully raise a generation of kids with a new outlook on dental health.”

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