There’s plenty to smile about while living in Appalachia. Your friends and family are nearby and life slows down a bit as the mountains keep you protected from the hustle and bustle of city life. One thing that is no smiling matter, however, is the improper care of smiles caused by poverty.
According to Kentucky Health Facts, 43% of residents living in Lee County Kentucky have lost 6 or more teeth and 39% have not seen a dentist in the last 5 years. Families simply do not have the means to provide their little ones with proper dental care.
“It is important that we start hygiene habits early and at a young age, teaching our children about dental care, as it is a precursor to many other health problems,” says Lee County Family Resource Center Director, Sherry Lanham.
Americans Helping Americans has been supplying countless children with Mighty Molar dental kits for years now, ensuring as many as we can receive their own toothbrush, two tubes of toothpaste, floss, and a schedule to keep track of their brushing schedule. The price is only $7 per kit.
“We service families who all share one toothbrush. Five in a family, all using one toothbrush,” noticed L.A.M.P Executive Director, Mary Mauricio.
It is haunting to hear stories like this from our partners in central Appalachia, but the distribution of these dental kits has been a success! The kits are given to schools to hand out to their students and any remaining are sent to surrounding counties. Dental clinics at the Department of Health are also working harder to make sure oral care is met by performing demonstrations in schools.
“In our afterschool programs, we make sure all students brush their teeth after serving them a hot meal, right before getting down to their homework,” reports Big Creek People in Action’s Marsha Spriggs.
Many children have told us upon receiving their very own Mighty Molar dental kits that it was their first time having their own set of dental floss and toothbrushes.
One way of changing the public misconception of Appalachian oral care is by providing children living in Kentucky, Georgia, Tennessee, and West Virginia with the tools they need to attain proper dental hygiene. Mighty Molar dental kits create this lasting change that children can appreciate now and in the future.
For the past nearly 15 years Americans Helping Americans® has been helping people throughout Appalachia see, eat and smile better through our eyeglasses and dental programs, as well as providing them with emergency medical assistance for necessary prescriptions in times of extreme need.
For example, in 2006 we provided funding for a denture assistance program serving the residents of Martin County, Kentucky and Mingo County, West Virginia, for which we received dozens of letters with stories and thanks from those who experienced dramatic improvements in their self-confidence and quality of life.
Our emergency medical assistance program acted as a safety net for people of Appalachia who were working hard just to get by and had nothing left over after paying their bills and putting food on the table to cover the costs related to an emergency illness.
For example, one man in West Virginia told us in 2008 that he had gone without teeth for 30 years before Americans Helping Americans® provided him with a set of dentures.
“I couldn’t ever get enough ahead to get a set of false teeth,” he said.
A woman who received a set of dentures, exclaimed “Praise the Lord! I haven’t had a salad for 15 years.”
But not all of the recipients were elderly.
“I had my teeth taken out when I was 19,” one young man who had had gum disease told us.
“I hadn’t smiled since.”
Throughout the years our emergency medical assistance program provided help to those at among the lowest points in their lives – when they didn’t know how they would pay for the medicines they needed to ease their suffering and make them well.
More recently our focus has been on preventing dental disease in children through our Mighty Molars program helping to ensure they will have their own teeth throughout their lifetimes and never need dentures.
This year alone, we plan on providing 4,000 children in Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia with Mighty Molar dental kits which includes six toothbrushes, two tubes of toothpaste and 60 dental floss picks.
In many of the cases, the kits will be distributed by elementary schools which will have dental hygienists give a presentation on the importance of good oral hygiene and instruct them on how to properly brush and floss their teeth.
“Many of our students have told us they do not own a toothbrush,” reported our partner in Beattyville, Kentucky, the Lee County Family Resource Center, located in the town’s elementary school.
Our focus has also shifted to providing adults and seniors with eyeglasses as we have found while states such as Tennessee will provide low-income children with eye exams and prescription glasses, such is not the case for adults.
In Tennessee, working with our partner there, Of One Accord, we found out that while Medicaid covers the cost of an eye exam, it does not cover the cost of a pair of prescription eyeglasses.
We have heard instances where men and women were in jeopardy of losing their jobs because they could not pass the eye exam at the Department of Motor Vehicles without the pair of glasses they could not afford.
Thanks to the supporters of Americans Helping Americans® over the years we were able to help thousands of our fellow Americans return to health, see clearly and eat the foods they love and no longer be shy about having a big, broad smile for everyone they meet.
Poor dental health is not only painful for children, but is also correlated to persistent poverty. As noted in the New York Times – “Experts have long observed that people’s teeth both reflect and reinforce poverty.”
This is why we work so hard to ensure good dental health for children in Appalachia. Living in some of the poorest regions of the country, these children get stuck in a cycle of poverty that is due, in part, to poor dental health.
· Children without access to dental care must often go to the emergency room when decay has gone too far, missing days at school.
· Teens can find challenges entering the workforce, at times hesitant to seek work in a public setting where they feel stigmatized by their discolored or broken teeth.
To address this problem, we started Mighty Molars. With the help of our partners, we are able to distribute toothbrushes, toothpaste, dental floss, and information about proper dental hygiene. This ‘small’ investment pays big dividends for children in Appalachia, by providing better health and a brighter future.
By helping to make ‘mighty molars,’ we hope to help alleviate poverty, one smile at a time.
According to a recent survey of third and sixth-grade children in eastern Kentucky, more than half of them had at least one untreated cavity.The oral health of the state’s children is getting worse, even though more have dental insurance.Through our “Mighty Molars” program, we are working to address the issue in communities in Appalachia.
Earlier this year, our partner, the Lee County Family Resource Center (LCFRC), was provided with hundreds of the “Mighty Molars” dental kits containing toothbrushes, toothpaste, and dental floss.
LCFRC director Sherry Lanham brought in staff from the local health department to teach children at Beattyville Elementary about the importance of proper oral hygiene and instructed them on proper brushing and flossing techniques.
Following the presentation, each child received their own “Mighty Molars” dental kit to be able to use what they learned in school to keep their teeth clean when they got home.
“Some of them had never had their own toothpaste, and they did not know how to use floss,” Sherry told us.
“Wow, I have my own toothbrush,” commented one student. “Now I don’t have to share with my brother and sister.”
And, added Sherry, “Americans Helping Americans® has gone beyond our wildest dreams in the way they have helped our community.”
It is not us who have “gone beyond our wildest dreams” but the supporters of Americans Helping Americans® who make it possible for us to be able to provide the “Mighty Molars” kits to our partners.
The kits cost less than $10 each for a six-month supply, and the need is great throughout Appalachia.
Our goal is to help prevent as many future cavities in school children as possible.
At Americans Helping Americans® we understand the great need for preventative dental care for children, beginning when they are able to hold a toothbrush and brush their teeth themselves.
In Appalachia, that’s too often not the case.
Now, we are proud to announce that we will be implementing our “Mighty Molars” program this fall, providing children and youth with dental kits, complete with toothbrushes, a three-month supply of toothpaste and dental floss picks to thousands of children throughout Appalachia in the coming year.
The statistics regarding oral health in Appalachia are staggering: in Kentucky, almost half of children ages 2 to 4 years old already have untreated cavities caused by drinking large quantities of sugary soft drinks and no preventative dental care.
In October, the Lexington, KY Herald-Leader newspaper reported that “Half of Eastern Kentucky children have untreated tooth decay,” and the problem is getting worse, not better.
In Eastern Kentucky, 53 percent of the third and sixth graders examined in 2016 had at least one untreated cavity amounting to about 15,100 children in immediate need of a filling.
And barely half of Kentucky children entering a public kindergarten during the 2014-15 school year had a documented dental screening or exam, although that’s supposed to be a requirement for admission.
Kentucky also has the highest proportion of adults under 65 without teeth because they did not learn good dental hygiene and develop good dental habits beginning with when they were children and now they are paying the price.
At Americans Helping Americans® we know it doesn’t have to be that way and that’s why we initiated our Mighty Molars program which is designed to instill good dental practices in the youngest of children so that six decades from now they will still have all of their teeth.
Our first partner in the program will be the Lee Family Resource Center, located in the Beattyville Elementary School, in Lee County, Kentucky. The town of Beattyville has been dubbed by The New York Times as one of the “hardest” places to live in the country, while the county is defined as one of 84 out of 420 counties in Appalachia as “distressed” by Appalachian Regional Commission.
For the vast majority of parents in the U.S., tooth brushes, toothpaste and regular dental checkups are a basic necessity for their children – but they can afford it. For the parents of the thousands of children in Appalachia who have never been to a dentist, rarely if ever brush their teeth and drink sugary sodas on a daily basis, dental care is not a “basic necessity” but an “unaffordable luxury” when rent and utilities have to be paid and food put on the table.
We will be providing hundreds of “Mighty Molar” kits to the Family Resource Center, as well as to the our long-time partner in McDowell County, West Virginia, which operates an after-school program throughout the year and camps when school is out for the summer.
In fact, West Virginia fares no better than Kentucky as having the highest proportion of adults over 65 without teeth, as well having one of the lowest percentages of adults who visit a dentist at least once a year.
And other statistics are just as disturbing, with two-thirds of children having cavities by age 8, and by the same age, only 37 percent have received protective sealants. In addition, a third- of 15-year-olds have untreated decay.
For years, we have having been providing assistance to senior citizens who have already lost their teeth by working with our partners in Appalachia and compassionate dentists who charge deeply discounted prices for dentures.
Now we are pleased that we be able to offer preventative care for the children of Appalachia in our mission to help them keep their teeth for their lifetime by building a sound foundation of tooth care today.