The search for resources for deaf and hard of hearing children is still alive and well, but one program has accommodated many communities to educate children on the importance of their dental hygiene.
Tacoma native and occupational therapist Malcolm Reed recently joined the team of “tooth fairies” who teach Delta Dental’s childhood dental health education program, The Tooth Fairy Experience, as the first ASL-speaking Tooth Fairy. The Spanaway resident is also the program’s first male Tooth Fairy.
“It’s so much fun to be different than the typical Tooth Fairy, Reed said. “Regardless of gender, I want to make a difference for all kiddos. Being the first male Tooth Fairy means a start to something even bigger. I say hurrah to a diverse representation of tooth fairies in order to better relate to kid and student populations.”
Reed learned ASL through deaf friends and family who taught and encouraged him. For the past 12 years, Reed has been signing. He became a nationally certified interpreter five years ago, and it all started because of his support system.
“They opened their world to me,” Reed said. “This was the spark that led me to seek a career as a sign language interpreter. In college is where I took many years of sign language and further developed my sign language skills.”
The Tooth Fairy Experience ASL presentation program began with a visit to the Washington School for the Deaf in Vancouver, WA last December, when the program was in its piloting stage. After garnering positive feedback, the presentation will now be a staple in The Tooth Fairy Experience repertoire.
“Access to language means access to education, knowledge, selfcare and awareness,” Reed said. “The ability to provide health education to kids in their language modality, which normally they would not have access to, is simply empowering to them and inspiring to me.”
With the addition of ASL presentations, the program, presented free by Delta Dental of Washington, is now available for deaf and hard of hearing K-2 students statewide. The ASL interpreter Tooth Fairy joins the program’s growing team of diverse tooth fairies available to meet the needs and preferences for the communities visited.
“This expansion of the Tooth Fairy Experience is near and dear to my heart as a former kindergarten teacher,” said Delta Dental of Washington Community Marketing Manager Rikki Vincent. “All children should have access to programs that enrich their lives, especially when it comes to taking care of their bodies.”
Currently, more than half of the state’s third graders have experienced tooth decay, and according to Delta Dental’s 2016 National Children’s Oral Health Survey, 30 percent of U.S. parents reported that their children (between the ages of six and 12) missed school in the previous year due to an oral health problem (as opposed to a regularly scheduled dental appointment). Nationally, one out of every 2,045 students are deaf, and one out of 980 are hard of hearing.
Reed loves his job, and his favorite part was easy for him to pinpoint.
“One of my favorite things as a Tooth Fairy is seeing kids smile,” Reed said. “When providing deaf kiddos with education, tools, and resources in their primary language, they then have the power to take charge of their own health.”
From its launch in 2019, as part of Delta Dental’s vision for a cavity-free Washington, the program aims to improve dental health habits at an early age, reduce the incidence of tooth decay and increase the number of kids who regularly visit the dentist.