Like any essential worker, the Tooth Fairy can’t telecommute for her nightly collection rounds.
But COVID-19 has limited her other in-person appearances, so she’s found new ways to connect with kids during National Children’s Oral Health Month this February.
Britteny Zito, a Rutgers School of Dental Medicine (RSDM) orthodontic resident, and the school’s in-house Tooth Fairy, shot a video of herself and other dental students answering questions from kids.
“I wanted to think of an innovative and exciting way to deliver oral health education to children during a time when the majority of learning is done virtually,’’ said Zito.
Since 2017, Zito has donned fairy wings and glitter to visit children each February on Give Kids a Smile Day, when RSDM provides free screening, preventive care and oral health education tips to Essex County school children.
Because the event was cancelled this year due to the pandemic, Zito decided to solicit letters from kids, “Like children write letters to Santa,’’ she explained.
The video features Zito and apprentice Tooth Fairy Flora Inoa, a predental student with a master's degree in biomedical science, who also stars in a bilingual version. About 30 kids submitted questions for the video, mostly children of friends, RSDM faculty members and staff, including some from overseas.
Inoa, who came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic as a child, remembers Tooth Fairy deliveries, but in many Spanish-speaking countries, a mouse exchanges baby teeth for gifts.
“His name is Ratoncito Perez,’’ said Inoa. “He’s a popular figure in Latin America and Spain.’’
After years of playing the role, Zito is an expert at answering questions from children about tooth brushing and her life as a fairy. In the video, kids ask if there’s a Tooth Fairy speed limit (no faster than the speed of light), how many teeth she’s collected (more than 10 trillion) and how home visits have changed during the pandemic.
The answer? Social distancing, masks and a new type of fairy dust. “It allows us to magically zap your teeth into our fairy bag from under your pillow from 6 feet away,’’ she informs kids.
Zito has found that the Tooth Fairy is the most effective way to impart tips on keeping healthy teeth and gums. “It’s not an easy task to get children excited about teeth and oral health,’’ she says. “I quickly realized how powerful playing the Tooth Fairy was. The children listened to me, they believed in me and they truly wanted to learn from me."