Inequities in early childhood oral health are evident amongst Indigenous peoples and communities across Canada. Given that dental care is privately funded and delivered on a fee-for-service basis, it is no surprise that First Nations, Inuit, and Metis children experience higher rates of Early Childhood Caries (ECC) than the rest of the population. With nearly 1 in every 4 children affected by a severe form of the disease (S-ECC), Indigenous children also account for the majority receiving rehabilitative dental surgery under general anesthesia. The single biggest risk factor for caries in this population is poverty affecting diet, the frequent consumption of sugar combined with poor oral hygiene habits. These factors affecting Indigenous peoples stem from challenges that include their parents’ own poor oral health status, the lack of discipline involved in daily tooth brushing, and the lack of dental insurance. Together, these factors create a complete lack of access to dental services, plus inadequate preventative education that is compounded by experiences of racism, and social determinants of health.
With the need for improving oral hygiene for Indigenous Children & Youth on-reserve, Sharidin, a volunteer at the Peer Medical Foundation in collaboration with the Saulteau First Nations (SFN), First Nations Health Authority (FNHA), and the Children’s Oral Health Initiative (COHI), created customizable Tooth Fairy Bags for children & youth in Moberly Lake, British Columbia.
The project was born after seeing first-hand the realities faced by her people and after a conversation with our CEO, Leah Sarah Peer. Together, they crafted a plan to provide adequate oral care packages for those 0-8, the target demographic for COHI, a preventative cause to combat early tooth decay in small children and pregnant women. Through the guidance of the Peer Med Impact Committee, Tooth Fairy Bags were created to promote oral hygiene amongst Indigenous children, youth, and adult populations.
On August 15th, 2022, the Tooth Fairy Bags were donated to the communities on-reserve in Moberly Lake. With our intended audience’s age in mind, Tooth Fairy Bags were selected as a token to illuminate both care and magic in the lives of Indigenous Children. After receiving funding from the RisingYouth community service grant, Sharidin spent weeks planning the Tooth Fairy Bags, creating customizable products while also enriching her awareness of the difficulties faced by her own Indigenous peoples. Funds went towards supporting the purchase of toothbrushes, toothpaste, brushing charts, mouthwash, baby teething rusks, floss, and stickers. These items were necessary as they matched the age-appropriate brochures created to promote dental care. In order to sparkle even more joy, hand-written letters from the Tooth Fairy were added to these children and youth Tooth Fairy Bags. Sharidin, a nursing student says “Going over the budget wasn’t a problem and was honestly expected, I am just glad I was able to execute the project and I hope to do more in the future for my community.”
More importantly, she adds “In addition to having the support, guidance, and mentorship of a youth-led organization like the Peer Medical Foundation, I have learned so much about health equity. In my Indigenous community, we are delighted to know that awareness is being spread about the healthcare injustices, numerous atrocities, and acts of genocide committed against Indigenous peoples. My community is grateful for people like Leah that want to make a difference.”
This project educated Sharidin and us, at the Peer Medical Foundation about the problems faced by Indigenous children on reserve, the steps needed to mitigate the harms, and ways that we can continue working together to support Indigenous youth who want to make a difference. “Seeing the smiles of the children in my community, with their Tooth Fairy bags was truly magical. They felt inspired to use these dental products wisely as well as excited to take the necessary steps to sustain their dental hygiene,” says Sharidin.
At the Peer Medical Foundation, we are delighted to have made a difference in the lives of these Indigenous children & families, to have improved their health & well-being a little, and to have provided basic necessities to brace for a pandemic in Canada. We are always looking at future opportunities to give back to the local communities in need, especially as we strive to support patients wherever they are and those who may be even more vulnerable during these challenging times.