Not everyone knows what a smile drive is, but we all know the importance of a smile. A healthy smile relays a lot to those around us. In addition to displaying happiness a gleaming smile also expresses a sense of ease and confidence and may even help open doors to new opportunities. So, it is especially heartbreaking that a healthy smile is simply out of reach for the millions of children living in poverty in the U.S. For many families who struggle to keep their children fed and clothed, the basics of just a toothbrush and toothpaste may be a very low priority. Smile drives aim to collect the supplies lower income kids need to keep up good oral health.

February is recognized as National Children’s Dental Health Month and together with the American Dental Association the movement works to bring awareness to the importance of childhood oral hygiene through education and practice.

The lack of oral health for the nearly 15 million children in the U.S. living in poverty is a hidden problem. Not often do we read about the startling statistic that dental caries (the scientific term for tooth decay and cavities) is the most common chronic childhood disease and that low income children have 5 times more untreated tooth decay than children in higher income families.

Poor oral health unfortunately affects a lot more than your smile. Oral infections can serve as a portal contributing to illness in the rest of the body. The saying, “You’re not healthy without good oral health” coined by former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, indicates the medical community’s understanding of the supreme importance of good dental health. Childhood tooth decay can cause problems with eating, speaking and even learning. In fact, it is estimated that more than 51 million school hours are lost annually because of illnesses related to dental problems (Impact of Poor Oral Health on Children's School Attendance and Performance). This lack of dental health among the poorest of our children add yet another barrier to breaking the cycle of poverty.

There are programs that help states with funding for dental health education and intervention. But, the problem persists and communities have stepped in to bring aid to their own area children. One such community effort is the America’s ToothFairy Smile Drive program from the National Children’s Oral Health Foundation. The Foundation aims to raise awareness about children’s dental health and to collect dental care supplies for lower income children. In particular, The Foundation offers guidance and materials for individuals, organizations and corporations to host America's Toothfairy Smile Drives to collect items like toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss and rinse for area children. The online giving platform, YouGiveGoods, facilitates such drives by holding the event either entirely online or in addition to physical collection sites. Check out how 14 organizations used YouGiveGoods giving platform to run their own smile drives to benefit children in their local area.

Tips on running a Smile Drive on YouGiveGoods

  1. Choose your charity. You can help the national effort by raising items for the National Children’s Oral Health Foundation in North Carolina, but many people prefer to help kids right in their own backyard. Start by researching organizations in your area including Boys & Girls Clubs, schools, area youth services agencies, women’s shelters and homeless shelters. Then place a phone call to the organization discussing your plans for a smile drive and see if their clients are in need of the dental supplies.

  2. Set up your event. Visit and select Start Your Drive. Follow the simple instructions to personalize your event with your own images and text. Be sure to include information about why good oral health is so important to lower income kids and about your chosen charity. Then select the dental hygiene items available for purchase through your event and you’re ready to go.

  3. Share your event. Send an email to friends and family with a link to your event and ask for their support. YouGiveGoods giving events are made for social sharing. Share your event link via all your social networks frequently to encourage donations. Supporters shop online and purchase items they wish to contribute. All brand-new items ship directly to your chosen charity at the close of the drive.

  4. Say Thank You and celebrate your success. If at all possible thank each and every donor for contributing to your event. If you have received any thanks or information from the charity about the positive effects of your event, share these great details with all your donors who made it happen.

With just a little effort you can make the difference in the life of a child. The healthy smile you make possible will have a real and lasting effect on a kid in need.