Nancy Alleman dresses up in a powder-blue jumpsuit with a sparkling tooth and uses an oversized toothbrush on the perfect pearly whites of dragon hand puppet for good reason.
"If I can just help prevent tooth decay in one child," the dental hygienist said, "it’ll be worth it."
That’s why Alleman takes time away from her day job at a Tacoma dentist’s office and gives free screenings to schoolchildren around the county as part of the state’s Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program, or ECEAP. She’ll see 600-700 kids this year. She was at Sheridan Elementary School today.
Alleman calls herself the Tooth Fairy when talking to the preschoolers, and she said dental care among youngsters is more important than most people realize.
"There’s an increased amount of dental decay in preschool," Alleman said. "In elementary school, we’re getting a handle on it. But we still need to work on it in preschool."
Children receive a free screening, a report card sent to his or her parents, a fluoride treatment (with parents’ permission) and referral to a dentist if needed.
Sheridan principal Kelly Evans said the feedback from parents on the program has been "extremely enthusiastic."
"In society, we see the school taking on more an more of a social role that the family used to be able to handle," he said. "We know that kids can’t learn if they’re not healthy. There’s a direct link with their ability to perform in a classroom and what they’ve had for breakfast, lunch and dinner."
Listen to Alleman give a primer on the importance of fluid here.
Listen to Evans talk a bit more about the ECAEP program here.