A Reflection: Healthy Teeth and Happy Children

I still remember the excitement my wife and I felt when we saw the first glint of enamel poking through our son's gums when he was still in diapers.

He had teeth.

Like most first-time parents, we found that every tiny event in Benny's life became a huge event in ours.

We deliberated way too long over tiny toothbrushes. Was the handle too big? Were the bristles soft enough?

And then there was the toothpaste issue.

Should we go without toothpaste and only use water for a while? Perhaps baking soda was a good first step? What about fluoride toothpaste?

Being typical Americans, we were going to protect Benny's pearly whites with all our might.

My, how our concern has grown beyond our own son's grin.

In 2010, we returned to Guatemala where five years earlier we had adopted Benny. On a trip that year with a humanitarian organization, we volunteered at a dental clinic at a community center outside of Guatemala City.

My duty at the clinic was to teach children how to brush their teeth. Many had never brushed their teeth before.

In the United States, more than eight out of every 10 children ages 2 to 17 have visited a dentist in the last year.

But these Guatemalan children had never even held a toothbrush! Already they were showing signs of periodontal disease. In the United States, most people don't show signs of gum disease until they are in their 30s and 40s. These children were only 8, 9, 10 years old ...

In Guatemala, according to a study by the Pan American Health Organization, 97 percent of school-age children have cavities and 96 percent have early signs of periodontal disease because of high sugar intake, poor dental hygiene, a poor health delivery system and a weak public health structure.

Dental health problems are not limited to Guatemala, of course. In most developing countries around the world, more than 90 percent of cavities go untreated. In comparison, only 8 percent of U.S. children ages 6 to 11 have untreated decay.

We all know what happens when dental problems are not treated. There's pain, which can be unbearable at times. The pain can disrupt eating, sleeping, playing and learning. That doesn't even touch on the self-esteem problems children can have if they have rotted or missing teeth.

The memories of my visit to the dental clinic in 2010 have never left me. It was because of that trip that my wife and I started a buy-one, give-one company, Smile Squared. We wanted to try and do something to help the children we met.

And others like them around the world, including here in the United States.

We are happy to say that since 2011, Smile Squared has donated more than 110,000 toothbrushes in all 50 U.S. states and in 24 countries worldwide.

This National Children's Dental Health Month, we are so thankful for the many people who have helped us along the way, and more importantly, who have helped the children.

We appreciate the customers who have bought our toothbrushes, retailers like Walmart that have sold our toothbrushes and nonprofit partners that have traveled the globe and placed our toothbrushes in the hands of children who may have never gripped one before.

Children like the ones we met in Guatemala, who deserve to lead healthy lives and flash toothy grins just like our Benny.