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Oral hygienePeople are often taught to brush and floss their teeth twice a day to prevent cavities or other oral diseases. Some estimates suggest that roughly 60-90% of children around the world and 100% of adults have cavities or another type of dental carie. These seemingly high rates of poor oral hygiene are present almost everywhere. The lack of market infrastructure and limited transportation can make acquiring seemingly simple items such as toothbrushes and toothpaste difficult or impossible in many countries. However, Sweet Bites, the first chewing gum made entirely of xylitol, was created for the sole purpose of providing an easy and affordable way for children and adults to protect their smiles from the debilitating problems associated with tooth decay.

Effects of Poor Oral Hygiene

The term “oral hygiene” can often be misleading. Oral hygiene is not limited to mouth diseases but can negatively affect people’s overall well-being. Potential short-term effects include a buildup of dental plaque, bad breath, breakouts and skin infections. Meanwhile, potential long-term effects include a risk of serious oral inflammation and a depressed immune system as well as tooth decay, cavities, gum disease and tooth loss.

The Science Behind Xylitol

Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that can be harvested from plants and is known to reduce plaque. This would also subsequently decrease the probability of tooth decay. Sweet Bites claims that “chewing xylitol-sweetened gum for five minutes after every meal can protect a person’s mouth from tooth decay, caries and all of the consequences that follow, including increased risk for cardiovascular disease.”

Five students from the University of Pennsylvania are the visionaries behind Sweet Bites. Although the health benefits of xylitol are not a new discovery, the young entrepreneurs’ three-pronged plan to help those suffering from tooth decay is admirable.

Sweet Bites Changes Lives

Sweet Bites’ mission is to “Fight Tooth Decay. Educate Children. Empower Students.” The entrepreneurs’ plan to address oral hygiene by selling their pure xylitol gum in stores throughout India’s most impoverished areas. The organization also has representatives traveling to schools, businesses and community events to educate the people of India on the importance of oral hygiene. This includes “health messaging on the wrapper, so each piece reinforces important behaviors, like brushing twice a day.” Lastly, Sweet Bites provides part-time work to local students. This ensures the chewing gum remains distributed by members of the community who understand the magnitude of the issue.

Currently, Sweet Bites is running various funding campaigns and applying for grants to bring their life-saving gum to the people of India at an affordable price. The Sweet Bites health initiative remains limited to India. However, the company’s CEOs are working to secure factory space so that their product can reach people around the world.

Sweet Bites’ Legacy

Sweet Bites has not just created a product but has also created a lifestyle. The company provides people with a product that will keep consumers happy and healthy. The product also teaches people about good oral hygiene habits and their effect on overall well-being. With several major global issues, it is often difficult to recognize seemingly minor issues that can spiral out of control when left unaddressed. Nevertheless, Sweet Bites creates a way to help those in need, which is truly the definition of giving back.

– Sara Jordan Ruttert
Photo: Flickr

theater accessibilityThe theater is an art form that cultures all across the world partake in. In addition to being enjoyable for many people, exposure to the theater is beneficial. A study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania on impoverished residents of New York City found that residents had better long-term outcomes in areas such as “education, security and health” with greater accessibility to cultural resources. Additionally, theater helps people develop emotionally by cultivating empathy, a humanitarian characteristic essential for molding a generation willing to help others living in poverty. A common aspect of poverty is the lack of opportunities available to people. Improving theater accessibility for impoverished people is one way to provide people in poverty with more opportunities.

3 Organizations Improving Theater Accessibility

  1. The Freedom Theatre. This organization is based in the Jenin refugee camp, a camp in the West Bank with a high poverty rate. The Freedom Theater provides Jenin residents with opportunities to engage in theater and workshops through programs in schools. The theater works with children of varying ages. For example, the daycare program allows children younger than 5 to learn and develop creatively. Modeled off Care and Learning, a project that helped children in the Jenin camp work through trauma by participating in the arts, The Freedom Theatre continues this mission by working with young people to help them develop coping skills. The Freedom Theatre’s work greatly improved theater accessibility in an area that previously had few theatrical opportunities for its residents. Thanks to the European Union funding the project, The Freedom Theatre can continue its work.
  2. Khmer Community Development (KCD). The KCD organization is in the Prek Chrey Commune, a community in Cambodia near the Cambodian-Vietnamese border. KCD commits itself to improving peace and understanding in Prek Chrey. Ethnic tension between different groups in the community is an issue that Prek Chrey continues to struggle with, but KCD is addressing it with theater. Using Forum Theater, an art form developed by Augusto Boal in the 1960s, KCD encourages discussion and exploration of social issues by having actors perform a short play that addresses a social issue. Thereafter, the performance is restarted to allow the audience to intervene with ideas to shape the play and develop “a peaceful solution to the issue.” Since it started, KCD’s Forum Theater is particularly popular among youth in the Prek Chrey Commune.
  3. New Africa Theater Association (NATA). Based in Cape Town, South Africa, NATA works to provide opportunities to underserved young people in the Cape Town area. In South Africa, many people between the ages of 18-24 are unemployed. These young people are also often not receiving an education. With this age group having access to theater, the youth develop valuable skills to secure employment. More than 87% of NATA alumni are employed, in school or are continuing to work with NATA. After acquiring its own building, NATA moved to a location where it is more easily accessible to people in Cape Town and surrounding rural areas.

Thanks to the efforts of these three organizations, theater accessibility is improving for disadvantaged people. Importantly, the arts contribute to social well-being while providing valuable opportunities to help vulnerable people rise out of poverty.

– Caroline Kuntzman
Photo: Flickr