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Countywide : Tooth Fairies Give Mr. Plaque Brushoff

On a quiet Monday morning, Pauline Geiger--the Plaque Buster--came to Hoover Elementary School in Santa Ana to talk about teeth.

Wearing blue boots, a blue-jean jumpsuit with the words “Plaque Busters” stitched on the front and dangly earrings made from a tiny toothbrush and tube of toothpaste, she strolled to the front of a kindergarten class.

“Hi. Gimme a pretty smile,” she said to a 6-year-old. He smiled shyly, showing even rows of baby teeth, and the Plaque Buster exclaimed: “Oh, gorgeous, gorgeous!”

Geiger is coordinator of Orange County’s 10-year-old “Teeth-4-Ever” program which, lacing a serious message with a lot of humor, teaches children to care for their teeth.

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Each week she and 11 other dental hygienists dress as “Plaque Busters,” “Tooth Fairies,” or “Captain Fluoride” to take lessons on brushing and flossing to 10 school districts from San Juan Capistrano to Brea. Their $151,164 program is targeted at children in low-income communities--this year 33,000 youngsters from preschool to sixth grade.

“Ideally if you had enough money, you’d want to serve every kid” regardless of income level, said Dr. Robert Doubleday, county dental program director, but “it’s targeted to the children in Orange County who need it the most.”

The Teeth-4-Ever program and similar programs around the state have reduced the rate of cavities and gum disease in their students, said Dr. Robert Isman, chief of dental health for the state Department of Health Services. Studies have repeatedly shown that children in low-income communities have a higher rate of dental problems than children from wealthier communities, he added.

In addition, Isner said, Teeth-4-Ever is “one of the better programs in the state.”

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For Geiger, Monday was just another day in the Plaque Buster’s fight to stamp out tooth decay.

Thirty kindergartners gave her their rapt attention as, speaking partly in English, partly in Spanish, she described “El Senor Plaque,” asking the 5- and 6-year-olds whether he was “ bueno " or “ malo .”

Malo! " they answered in unison.

For the next 25 minutes Geiger talked a bit about fluoride and persuaded the children to stage a short play that contained a lesson on nutrition.

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Afterward, Principal Helen Romero, who had been watching quietly in the back, said she has long been impressed with Geiger’s lessons. “She really gets the children excited about brushing their teeth--if you can imagine that,” Romero said.


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