By AMBLE SMOKER
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Miss Native American USA Kristina Hyatt, an EBCI tribal member from the Big Cove community, is teaming up with America’s ToothFairy Team for the annual America’s ToothFairy Smile Drive. Hyatt, a Dental Hygienist with the EBCI Children’s Dental Program, is collecting oral care products including toothbrushes, toothpaste, and floss at locations across Cherokee to benefit underserved Native American children from the Oglala Sioux Tribe on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and other native communities.
One of the Smile Drive locations will be held at the Cherokee Elementary School where students will have the opportunity to donate items for oral hygiene packs as a part of their annual Sacred Path Community Service Project. The goal is to collect enough hygiene products to make 500 oral hygiene packs which will consist of a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, and a personal note from students at the Cherokee Elementary School.
“The reason I decided to compete for Miss Native American, USA, was because I saw it as a way to make my voice heard and raise awareness,” said Hyatt. “The crown has given me many more opportunities to educate people about the importance of oral health since access to dental care is an issue for a lot of other tribes.”
Pediatric dental disease is the leading chronic illness affecting Native American children. According to the Indian Health Service, American Indian and Alaskan Native preschoolers experience tooth decay at a rate five-times higher than other children in the United States. Hyatt’s goal is to raise awareness of oral health across Indian Country and provide the necessary tools to combat the almost completely preventable disease.
Hyatt plans to travel to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota on Feb. 21 to deliver the packages and raise awareness on the importance of oral health. According to the WK Kellogg Foundation, 46 percent of children on the Pine Ridge Reservation suffer from moderate to urgent dental needs, including infections and other life-threatening problems. She will be visiting a local school and several Head Start programs while donating the oral hygiene packs donated by the Cherokee community.
In 2015, Hyatt held a Smile Drive for the Cherokee community which benefitted children at the Cherokee Youth Center, Snowbird Youth Center, and the Cherokee Children’s Home. During the Cherokee Smile Drive, she collected the most items by a dental hygienist with over 5,000 products donated from the community. She hopes to have the same success this year as she reaches out to more Native American students living on other reservations.
“I would like to challenge each of you to participate in this special Smile Drive effort and give the gift of a beautiful, healthy smile to a Native American child,” related Hyatt.