You Might Take Yours for Granted, but This Family Can Tell You the Difference a Toothbrush Makes
February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, created by the American Dental Association to raise awareness about the importance of oral health. Today’s Daily Point of Light Award honorees – two sisters – have found a simple way to help others across the globe who live without access to basic oral care. Meet Ashley and Paige Alenick and nominate someone you know as a Point of Light.
We stand over the sink every day and rarely give it a second thought: caring for our teeth. Toothbrushes and toothpaste are only as far away as the nearest convenience store.
But one family in Woodcliff Lake, N.J., has a different perspective on what a toothbrush can mean for someone in need. The Alenicks have helped put more than 150,000 toothbrushes in the hands of people living in 60 developing countries, fostering healthier futures – and brighter smiles – around the world.
Sisters Paige and Ashley Alenick grew up with an appreciation for community service. At ages 7 and 9, respectively, they were the youngest volunteers to participate in a chorus that performs songs from the 1940s for elderly residents at assisted living facilities.
“Our parents taught us the idea that if you have a lot, you should give something back,” Paige says.
The sisters say the idea to collect and redistribute toothbrushes came one day in 2011 when Paige was brushing her teeth. “I thought about it simultaneously as something we take for granted and something others need,” she says.
From there, the Alenicks’ Donate A Toothbrush began to take shape.
The family reached out to Oklahoma-based World Dental Relief, an organization that sends dental experts on hundreds of annual missions abroad. The organization’s president, Dr. Ron Lamb, explained his organization did not have toothbrushes for its dentists to give to those they treated, which meant the results these missionaries accomplished to improve hygiene were short lived at best.
Ashley and Paige also learned the issue of dental health reached far beyond cavities, as there are links between dental health and heart health, and AIDS and hepatitis can be passed from one person to another by sharing toothbrushes.
As part of their volunteer work, the sisters engage in letter writing campaigns to dentists nationwide, attend dental conventions where they speak with suppliers and distributors and organize toothbrush drives at schools ranging from nurseries to universities. The pair have met with name-brand manufacturers of toothbrushes and have even given testimony before the United Nations Youth Assembly.
“It was amazing meeting other kids our age, sharing our ideas on how they could develop their own projects and encouraging them not to shrink away from the challenges of changing the world,” says Paige.
The Alenicks regularly receive photos that show children in Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Vietnam, Senegal and other countries proudly holding toothbrushes that originated from Donate A Toothbrush. “It reminds our family what’s important and it gives us motivation to do more,” Paige says, describing how the children in the pictures appear to hold up the toothbrushes as though they were trophies.
The operation is a family affair. While Ashley and Paige lead the outreach effort, it is their father, Scott, who built and manages the donateatoothbrush.com website. And Suzanne, their mother, helps wrangle stacks of donations all over the house.
In their first year, the Alenicks rounded up 3,000 toothbrushes. Now, donations come in from more than 35 states and from eight other countries – India, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Italy, Ethiopia, China and England. Donate A Toothbrush is the largest supplier of toothbrushes to World Dental Relief, having brought in more than 150,000 toothbrushes.
Ashley is now 22, studying law. Paige is 19, also in college. They say Donate A Toothbrush is a long-term commitment for them.
“We live in a community that has so much,” says Ashley. “It feels great to give back.” Paige agrees, adding, “Even the tiniest ideas can spiral into something bigger than you can imagine.”