It’s easy to take going to the dentist for granted…unless you lack access to professional dental care.

It’s no secret that oral health is essential to both general health and quality of life. According to the World Health Organization, good oral health is a state of being free from mouth and facial pain, oral and throat cancer, oral infection and sores, periodontal (gum) disease, tooth decay, tooth loss, and other diseases and disorders that limit an individual’s capacity in biting, chewing, smiling, speaking, and psychosocial wellbeing.

Worldwide, according to WHO statistics, 60–90% of school children and nearly 100% of adults have dental cavities, often the precursor to more serious oral health issues. But even in wealthier countries like the U.S. and the UK, WHO notes, oral disease in children and adults is higher among poor and disadvantaged population groups. (In the U.S., according to recent data from the National Center for Health Statistics, 17.5% of children aged 5-19 have untreated dental cavities (also known as dental caries) and 27.4% of adults aged 20-44 years shared that condition.)

That’s why AJLI is proud to have a long-standing partnership with the Colgate Bright Smiles, Bright Futures® program.

While there are many other advocates for better oral health, ranging from FDI World Dental Foundation to the American Dental Association, one of the notable aspects of Bright Smiles, Bright Futures is that it raises awareness about the importance of dental health by providing free dental screenings and oral health education to children and their families across 80 countries. (Colgate says the program, celebrating its 25th year, reached 850 million children worldwide in 2015, with a goal for 2020 of 1.3 billion.)

In the U.S., Colgate says, Bright Smiles, Bright Futures’ award-winning educational curriculum reaches nearly nine out of every 10 kindergarten students each year, or some 3.5 million children in all 50 states, and more than 10 million children directly through its mobile dental van grassroots program. More than 30 Junior Leagues in the U.S. have participated in Bright Smiles, Bright Futures by sponsoring mobile dental van visits to their communities. This translates into more than 6,000 dental screenings performed, with a further 42,000 children having received dental education at the visits. (Bright Smiles, Bright Futures also sponsors AJLI’s Community Impact Awards, presented at Annual Conference since 2014.)

Because February is National Children’s Dental Health Month in the U.S., it’s also worth noting that many dentists are directly involved as volunteers offering their services for free, either with organizations like the American Dental Association and on their own.