When dental hygienist Cynthia Wallbridge read in the Herald that 40 per cent of New Zealand 5-year-olds have tooth decay, she was dismayed.
That turned to astonishment after she contacted her local school and asked what she could do to help.
Lin Avery, the principal at Glen Taylor School in Glen Innes, asked if a toothbrush could be supplied for every child as some students were sharing with their families.
"That gave me a big shock," Mrs Wallbridge said. "We are having people getting strep throat and permanent heart damage, so many things (are) passed on by saliva."
Next week, a dental education scheme developed by Mrs Wallbridge will start at the decile 1 school, with families of students invited to attend.
As well as a toothbrush for each child, she is supplying red "dental education" boxes containing books and activities with messages on how to look after teeth. Classrooms will complete projects using the materials.
Companies including Oral B and Healthcare Essentials donated items, and Pak'nSave Glenn Innes gave 1,000 toothbrushes.
Mrs Wallbridge wants to extend the pilot programme to other schools in Glen Innes, and then eventually to all decile 1 schools in the country, as well as schools in the Pacific Islands.
She said KidsCan and other schemes covered about one-third of those schools, and she wanted to fill the gaps.
"I'm trying to get the hygienists and dental surgeries to start taking this on and going out to their communities, not just giving toothbrushes but really getting the education going."
Keeping them smiling
• Some children at an East Auckland school are sharing toothbrushes with their families.
• A pilot scheme will give each child a toothbrush, and provide education materials.
• Plans to extend the initiative to other New Zealand and Pacific Island schools.