In the heart of LIVEfree Project's community initiatives, the Smile and Thrive program stands as a beacon of holistic healthcare, going beyond routine dental check-ups to address the emotional and mental wellbeing of children.
As we proudly celebrate reaching our 800th appointment milestone, we acknowledge the transformative impact of this program and extend our heartfelt thanks to the Newcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation for their invaluable support over the past two years, as well as our ongoing partners Grill’d and Harry’s Schnitzels and local dentists giving space in their schedules for us.
Origins and Purpose
The genesis of the Smile and Thrive program traces back to keen observations from one of our university students Courtney Dutt, who was training to be a nurse. As we hosted one of our afternoon community programs with 50 students attending, she was staggered at how many of the children had tooth decay and posed the question – “ Can we do something?”
This question is often the beginning place for our uniquely niched programs within community and so began conversations with local community business, health services, mum’s, community, and the principal Mr Greg Culhane from one of our local partner schools. It became apparent that dental issues, particularly rotten teeth, were not just a health concern but also correlated with behavioural challenges. Many children were enduring pain silently, which manifested in disruptive behaviour and inability to concentrate in class and an inability to sleep at night. So it was from this humble space we we began what is now known as “Smile and Thrive Dental Program”.
The program recognises the urgency of addressing dental health disparities in Australia. Key statistics highlight the challenges faced by children, especially those from vulnerable backgrounds:
3 in 10 people delay or avoid dental visits due to cost.
1 in 4 children (aged 5 to 10) have untreated decay in their baby teeth.
1 in 25 people (aged 15 and over) have no natural teeth left.
Dental Health Disparities
The statistics reveal stark disparities among different demographics, emphasising the need for targeted interventions:
42% of children aged 5–10 had experienced dental cavities in their deciduous teeth, with higher rates for Indigenous children (61%) and those from low-income households (50%).
27% of children aged 5–10 had at least one deciduous tooth with untreated decay, with higher rates for children from low-income households (36%).
24% of children aged 6–14 had experienced dental caries in their permanent teeth, with higher rates for Indigenous children (36%) and those from low-income households (28%).
800 Appointments and Counting
The Smile and Thrive program has now celebrated its 800th appointment, marking not just a numerical milestone but a testament to the countless lives touched and transformed. This achievement is a result of the commitment of our team and the unwavering support from the Newcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation.
Transformative Impact on Behaviour and Wellbeing
Regular dental care under the Smile and Thrive program has led to a remarkable transformation in children's lives. Those who once struggled with behavioural challenges due to dental pain are now experiencing newfound comfort and relief. Consistent dental care has improved their ability to focus in school, resulting in better academic performance and an enhanced overall quality of life. This also has a generational change for our city as a new emerging generation is taught and experience for themselves the value of our teeth, the impact dental care has on daily life and learning. To combine this program with mentoring has been a game changer for these students building their confidence and connection in community, giving them a space to learn about personal safety, health, and life shaping values and relationships.
Acknowledging Our Partners
We extend our sincere gratitude to the Newcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation for their steadfast support over the past two years, enabling the Smile and Thrive program to reach its 800th appointment milestone, as well Grill’d and Harry’s Schnitzel. Together, we are making a lasting impact on the lives of children in our community, ensuring they not only smile but thrive in every aspect of their lives.
We want to also acknowledge and thank our ongoing sponsors Grill’d and Harry’s Schnitzel who provide a meal for each and every student that attends an appointment and a space for us to do our mentoring sessions with the children. Together with our local dentists No more Gaps Dental Adamstown, Dr Pepper Merewether, New Lambton Family Dentist, Pacific Smiles Jesmond, Awabakal Dental, NSW Health at Wallsend and Newcastle, we are making a lasting impact on the lives of children in our community, ensuring they not only smile but thrive in every aspect of their lives.
As we celebrate this dual achievement – the 800thDental appointment and the 800th mentoring session, we also want to celebrate the ongoing impact of the “Smile and Thrive program” – we look forward to a future where every child experiences the transformative power of holistic healthcare and the support of a community that cares.
As NPCF sponsorship grant concludes, we are looking for another major sponsor for this program, so if you’re reading this and wondering if your organisation, business, or family could help us achieve even more for our city in the coming year, we would love to hear from you.