Tooth Fairy Co. works to boost oral health awareness
Spokane entrepreneur’s new book provides tips for kids, parents on dangers of decayOctober 20th, 2022
Spokane entrepreneur Edie Higby says her enthusiasm for children’s oral health has helped her expand her business with a new children’s book, “10 Tips from the Tooth Fairy.”
Higby says she formed the Tooth Fairy Co. nine years ago as a “labor of love,” to convey the importance of early childhood dental visits and prevention of tooth decay, which is a problem for almost half of Spokane-area kids.
“If you’re living in Spokane, Washington, your child is three times more likely to suffer from tooth decay because we don’t have fluoride in our water,” Higby claims.
The Spokane Regional Health District reports that Spokane is the largest city in the state without fluoridated drinking water.
“Tooth decay is the most chronic childhood disease we have in America today,” she says. “It’s the No. 1 reason for absenteeism from school, the third reason a child enters an emergency room under the age of 5, and it’s totally preventable.”
Taking children to see a dentist as soon as possible can prevent tooth decay with professionally applied fluoride treatments that kids without regular dentist visits miss out on, according to SRHD.
The health district also reports that poor oral health can cause pain and can impact a person’s ability to eat, sleep, learn, and work.
In addition to health concerns, Higby says tooth decay is expensive to treat, because parents are likely to pay more to treat their children experiencing tooth decay than they spend on preventive services.
In its most recent analysis, Arcora Foundation, a Seattle-based organization, says in a Washington state Apple Health Dental Program Facts & Figures report that restorative services accounted for 26% of total dental health expenditures for children in fiscal year 2020. That exceeds expenditures for preventive care (20%), orthodontics (13%), and adjunctive general services (13%).
Adjunctive general services include emergency treatment, anesthesia, professional consultations, and other services.
“It’s a big public health issue and a childhood disease that warrants our attention to do something creatively and to talk to our kids about it,” she says.
In Spokane County, 44% of children in both preschool and kindergarten experienced tooth decay in their primary teeth in 2015, an increase of 11 percentage points and 4 percentage points, respectively for preschoolers and kindergarteners from 2010, as of the latest survey results published in 2017 from a Washington state Department of Health’s Smile Survey report.
“Most parents need to know they need to get their child to the dentist by their first tooth or their first birthday,” says Higby. “That’s a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standard and Spokane Regional Health District’s Access to Baby & Child Dentistry program standard.”
She adds, “They want kids to get in early, if for nothing else than to get them used to going to the dentist, and for parents to get used to taking them.”
Higby currently works as a family services manager and ABCD dental coordinator for Rural Resources Community Action, a Colville, Washington-based nonprofit that works to meet basic social and economic needs of rural communities in Ferry, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Whitman, and Stevens counties in Eastern Washington.
“In rural areas, access to care is a little harder to come by … but really, parents in general just don’t know when to take their child to the dentist,” she says. “So, if a child has a mouthful of tooth decay but they don’t get into a dentist chair before they’re 5 years old, it’s going to be detrimental to the child.”
The book “10 Tips from the Tooth Fairy” was pre-released in February to coincide with National Dental Health Month, and a first edition has been available as of early this month.
October is National Dental Hygiene Month, she says.
Higby says the Tooth Fairy Co. is targeted to kids, parents, and dentists. The business provides learning materials for children, urges parents to encourage oral health with help from the tooth fairy, and partners with dentists to engage with families.
The Tooth Fairy Co.’s educational materials provide lessons about the importance of a smile, oral health concepts, proper brushing techniques, and creating routines. The company also provides meet-and-greet and story-time events, she says.
To help spread her message, Higby also created a tooth fairy character that eventually will be manufactured as a stuffed toy to provide another way to engage with children.
The idea for the character occurred while she was working for Kool Smiles, a Marietta, Georgia-based network of dental practices, where she coordinated community outreach events and training in Washington state.
“No one wanted a dental company (to speak at events), but they loved the tooth fairy, and that’s how I found a way to teach and do community outreach and education.”
She says that, since then, “The tooth fairy has always stuck with me. It wasn’t about making money for dentists. The dentists know how to prevent tooth decay. It was about making the connection between families and dentists and to help families find a dental home.”
A dental home refers to a permanent dentist, she explains.
“This is a labor of love. And this is my full-time second job. It’s not paying the bills yet,” says Higby. “Business is doing good because we just got the book released and it’s been two years in the making.”
She says partnering with local companies when she’s able to, such as selecting Minuteman Press-Spokane Valley to print the books, is important to her even if it requires a bigger financial commitment.
Higby says she’d like to expand her business partnerships in the near future to include working with dental schools and associations. She’s also proposing partnerships with credit unions for kids to start a savings account with money from losing their first tooth.
“The Tooth Fairy Co. promotes smiles and prevents tooth decay, and whoever we can partner with to accomplish that and help spread the message, that’s what we want to do.”
Higby says the tooth fairy recently has visited the Priest Lake Library, in North Idaho, and plans to visit St. Anne’s Children & Family Center, in Spokane, in February for story time and meet-and-greet events.
The fee to have the tooth fairy attend events is variable, and prices will depend on the circumstances, she says.
“I just want to get the books out there. It will serve us well if I can get a dentist to sponsor it so then I can get their name out there too. Then I’ll have reached my mission to sell the books and get kids to the dentist.”
The children’s book is available for purchase at www.believeinthetoothfairy.com for $7.99 and will be available on Amazon.com soon, she says.
“I think we should have a national campaign someday, similar to Smokey Bear, that spreads the word that the tooth fairy prevents tooth decay. Someday we’re going to fly a two-story balloon down the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade,” she claims. “Working with local people here is where we’re going to start.”