DARLINGTON, SC (WMBF) - As the Darlington community gets ready for the races over the weekend, the American Dental Association Foundation is using the excitement of NASCAR to encourage children to brush their teeth more.
Jeff Gordon's race car and the ADA Foundation's Give Kids a Smile program visited Pate Elementary and Cain Elementary in Darlington County School District Thursday morning.
Presenters talked about the importance of strong oral health and what children need to do to achieve that, which includes brushing their teeth and going to the dentist.
"We've been targeting Title 1 under-served schools," said Nicole Catral, American Dental Association Foundation's manager of children's oral health service programs. "A lot of these kids don't even have toothbrushes, so it's really important that we at least try to give them a toothbrush and educate them."
More than 800 students attended the events and received goody bags with a toothbrush, toothpaste, sugar-free gum and dental hygiene tips.
Jeff Gordon made an appearance via video to teach students about the motto "2-4," which is used to remind children to brush their teeth for two minutes, two times a day for better dental hygiene.
Presenters also had games ready to get children involved in learning about how they can prevent cavities.
Dr. Thelma Dawson said toothaches are actually the top reason for absences from school. "They get a lot of dental infections and don't understand that a dental infection can actually kill you, put you in the hospital, so what we're trying to do is educate them to get started early, early, early," she said.
Dr. Dawson said many families don't emphasize dental hygiene at home. She said children also need to start seeing a dentist earlier than expected, as young as six months to a year old.
"It's a rural area and high poverty and we don't have enough pediatric dentists in the area to take care of them, so a lot of general dentists have to do it," Dr. Dawson said.
Dr. Dawson and Give Kids a Smile organizers hope by reaching out to the students directly, they'll have better dental hygiene now and in the future.
"Nationally, there's been a difference that shows kids' cavity rates are declining a little bit, so it seems like we might be making a difference," Catral said.