“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is a well-worn expression that has been popular since it was coined in the 1700s. In 1991, however, when Colgate and the National Dental Association (NDA) partnered to bring oral health education and dental screenings to children in underserved communities, it was an innovative approach to helping eradicate oral health disease.
That year, Colgate-Palmolive Company launched Bright Smiles, Bright Futures® (BSBF) as a pilot program with two mobile dental vans that traveled across the metro Philadelphia and Oakland,
California areas providing free dental screenings, oral health education and treatment referrals to children ages 1 to 12. Meetings were held with local dental professionals to understand the dental needs of the community and generate awareness for the BSBF program, and volunteers were recruited by NDA members in each city to staff the vans.
The volunteers boarded the vans to visit schools, churches, recreation centers, community and cultural events, and the BSBF program made an impact on both the children and the dentists. “We were leaving our offices and going into the community to teach people about something that could improve their lives – and the families responded,” remembers Dr. Brian J. Swann, an oral physician who was among BSBF’s first dental professional volunteers. “We also realized that we were role models to the children we saw aboard the van. We were people who looked like them, telling them that they mattered and that they too could be dentists, doctors, or whatever they imagined.”
“Colgate understood that you couldn’t treat everyone; it was a lot faster and more effective to teach people how to maintain good oral health habits,” continues Dr. Swann, now Chief of Oral Health for the Cambridge Health Alliance and an Assistant Professor of Oral Health Policy and Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine. “We had not seen a lot of corporate-community programs of the magnitude of what Colgate was doing with Bright Smiles, Bright Futures, and we wanted to make sure it succeeded.”
Colgate Bright Smiles, Bright Futures has not only succeeded; it has flourished. Twenty-eight years later, the program has reached more than one billion children in more than 80 countries. It maintains a fleet of nine mobile dental vans – often staffed by NDA dental professionals – which travel to more than 1,000 U.S. cities and towns each year. With input from NDA and other dental professionals, Colgate developed an award-winning Bright Smiles, Bright Futures in- school curriculum. The company has also provided toothpaste, brushes, and educational materials to NDA dentists visiting refugee camps in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, and schools in Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Jamaica and other countries.
NDA dentists recently joined Bright Smiles, Bright Futures in Baltimore for the presentation of the first Bright Smiles Kids Awards, and in Atlanta, where it launched a partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs of America (B&GCA). As part of the program, B&GCA Clubs around the country will participate in a “Smile-a-bration” competition, unleashing children’s creativity to create oral health projects.
In addition to providing oral health education and awareness, Colgate and the NDA have been actively involved in underwriting research and scholarships for dental and hygiene students planning to work in underserved communities. Together Colgate and the NDA Foundation have awarded more than $4.3 million in scholarships helping more than 3,300 African-American students to pursue careers in dentistry. They have also contributed more than $4 million to fund research on the impact of oral health-related diseases on people of African descent.
“As an organization, we are not just impressed by the longevity and breadth of Colgate’s Bright Smiles, Bright Futures initiative,” says John Daniels II, DDS, FICOI, President, the National Dental Association, “but also that as a company it continues to explore new ways to reach children and to make a greater impact in terms of improving their oral health.”
For nearly three decades, Colgate and the NDA have been empowering children to take proper care of their teeth and gums,” explains Dr. Marsha Butler, Colgate’s Vice President, Global Oral Health and Professional Relations, “and we are committed to helping children to have a future they can smile about.”
About the National Dental Association
For over 100 years, the National Dental Association has been promoting oral health equity among people of color by harnessing the collective power of its 7,000 members, advocating for the needs of and mentoring dental students of color, and raising the profile of the profession in our communities. The organization is comprised of 48 state and local chapters throughout the U.S. and Caribbean and is currently expanding its membership to include oral health care professionals in Africa, Canada, Saudi Arabia, South America and Latin America.
For more information on the NDA, please visit ndaonline.org or call (240) 241-4448.