Delta Dental’s Land of Smiles Bolsters Oral Health Through
By Alex Lubischer
Nate Ross loves his job. The 24-year-old Chicago-based actor spent the last two springs performing in the Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation’s (DDILF) traveling children’s theater production, Land of Smiles.
The foundation—the charitable arm of Delta Dental of Illinois—unveiled Land of Smiles in 2007 as a way to educate prekindergarten through third-grade students about the importance of oral health. Last spring, Ross, as the heroic Tooth Wizard, traveled with his scene partner, Jake Miller (his loathsome nemesis, PlaqueMan), to more than 120 elementary schools throughout Illinois; their show was seen by nearly 30,000 students.
In the skit, billed as a live-action cartoon, Tooth Wizard battles PlaqueMan for the health of kids’ smiles and teaches students the proper techniques for taking care of their teeth. Ross and Miller interacted directly with their young audiences, employing—among other props—an enormous mouth replica several feet wide.
“Throughout the show, we talk about not only brushing your teeth, but dental floss and mouthwash, the importance of eating good foods and the importance of going to the dentist twice a year,” said Ross. “By the end of the show, the kids are getting so into it that they are literally cheering for the dentist, which is something you don’t see everyday.”
According to the Surgeon General’s Report on Oral Health in America, tooth decay is the most common chronic disease affecting children in Illinois, despite the fact that it is nearly 100 percent preventable. Furthermore, studies have linked gum disease to systemic conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, and indicate that some form of gum disease affects 75 percent of the United States population.
Speaking to the value of preventative care and early education, Lora Vitek, director of philanthropy and community relations for DDILF said, “If we can help children understand the importance of good oral health and how to take care of their teeth at an early age, the benefits will last a lifetime.”
Having reached nearly 180,000 students at more than 600 Illinois schools over the past six years, Land of Smiles is going strong. It’s likely that this year’s Tooth Wizard will be back to fight PlaqueMan when the program resumes in January.
“There’s something uniquely fulfilling about it,” said Ross. “There’s something about being around those kids… I could see myself doing [this] for a while.”