NDSU student starts program to give dental products to North Dakota kids
Published February 20, 2015
Sammie Yineman watched the dentist work. It was her first day volunteering at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation’s pediatric dental day in October 2013. The patient was a young boy suffering from tooth decay.
“Do you have a toothbrush?” the dentist asked.
“I think we have one in our house somewhere, but I don’t know where it is,” the boy said.
Yineman’s heart broke. She heard similar responses throughout the day as she soothed jangled nerves, sterilized equipment and entered data. Later she met another 5-year-old who had never seen a toothbrush.
Yineman, a member of NDSU’s pre-dentistry program, grew up just an hour north of the reservation but had no idea of the health challenges people there faced.
Experience to action
Yineman’s interest in dentistry began in elementary school. She coaxed her little brother into letting her pull out his loose baby teeth and yanked three in one year. “He got pretty sick of me after that,” Yineman said. “But he really wanted that tooth fairy money.”
Money is often a hurdle to proper dental care. The most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found 23 percent of adults ages 20 to 64 have untreated tooth decay. Lower income populations tend to have higher prevalence rates. And reaching youth is a key factor in overcoming a lifelong trend.
Yineman has set out to reverse that trend.
The experience at Standing Rock motivated Yineman to create a program called Hikpazaza in fall 2013. The program distributes donated dental care items to kids who need them. To get started, she contacted the reservation’s oral health coordinator to reach elementary schools and daycare programs. Yineman wanted to know how many toothbrushes were needed to supply each child ages K-5 on the reservation for one year.
She talked with area dentists who regularly send each patient home with a complimentary toothbrush. The problem is that many children never make it to those dental offices. “I wondered why that link was missing, and I decided to become that link,” Yineman said.
She began collecting brushes and other dental products from area dentists and companies that sell the items.
NDSU student Sammie Yineman took her toothbrush for granted until she met a 5-year-old boy who had never seen one. The encounter motivated the future dentist to develop a program that distributes donated dental care items to kids who need them.
Smile to smile
In April and May 2014, Yineman visited Standing Rock to distribute what she’d collected. Her first stop was an early childhood education center.
She handed each child a toothbrush and coloring book. They sat on the floor, surrounding Yineman as she pulled out a stuffed dinosaur and prop toothbrush and began her presentation.
“I don’t like her,” a little girl said of the toy named Dina. “She’s ugly.”
“Oh yeah?” Yineman said. “Do you want to kiss her?”
The children laughed. They began to chime in and answer Yineman’s questions, and they mimicked her with their own toothbrushes as she demonstrated proper brushing techniques on Dina’s oversized teeth.
“Those are only for you,” Yineman said of the brushes. “Not for your dogs or hitting your siblings or scrubbing the toilet.”
Yineman distributed products to 600 kids in her program’s first year, and her goal is to provide a toothbrush to every North Dakota child who needs one. She’s invited more volunteers from the NDSU Pre-Dental Club and is working with National Children’s Oral Health Foundation to create a bank of approximately 100,000 toothbrushes. In addition, she’s started promoting her idea more broadly.
Julie Schroer, NDSU pre-health professional adviser and lecturer, helped Yineman secure funds from the NDSU College of Science and Mathematics, Department of Psychology and the Office of the Provost to promote her program at a meeting of the Society of American Indian Dentists in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Yineman arrived on time. Her luggage didn’t. She was forced to present to a roomful of dental professionals in her “travel jammies,” and at the end of the day she had to do the one thing that motivated her to create the program.
She had to ask someone for a toothbrush.