PepsiCo to Support Dentist in Appalachia

CEO tells Diane Sawyer Pepsi will work to recruit more dentists in the region.

ByABC News
February 17, 2009, 5:45 PM

Feb. 17, 2009— -- PepsiCo, the makers of Mountain Dew soda, told ABC News' Diane Sawyer that the company wants to work with a dentist in eastern Kentucky to help save children's teeth, after an ABC News report on the problem of tooth decay, or "Mountain Dew mouth," in the region.

PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi spoke to Sawyer Tuesday and expressed concern "about any overuse or misuse of the soda among small children."

Nooyi said that PepsiCo will work to recruit more dentists in the region and will give Dr. Edwin Smith, a dentist in Barbourville, Ky., another van for his work.

Smith invested $150,000 of his own money to build a mobile dental clinic, Kids First Dental Care, inside an 18-wheel truck.


In an earlier statement, PepsiCo said that its vice president of global health policy had reached out to Smith to learn more about his clinic after Smith's appearance on "Good Morning America" Friday.

"They also discussed how we might support his efforts to educate people in Appalachia about proper dental care and help them lead healthier lifestyles," the statement said. CLICK HERE to read the full statement.

"We would welcome any support we can get from Pepsi," Smith said. "Our concern is bettering the dental health of these kids. Kids who need help right now -- not just with education, but with the practicalities of getting their teeth fixed."

Several days a week, Smith criss-crosses the curvy roads of 16 eastern Kentucky counties to offer free dental screenings and services to hundreds of students. Most children dread the dentist, but those who line up outside Smith's van are often giddy with anticipation. For many, it's the first and only dental check-up they'll have for years.

"It's a generational thing, I think," said Smith. "Grandma had dentures, mom had dentures, it's just inevitable that I'm going to end up with dentures, is the way some of these kids feel. I really believe we have to do a better job educating."

Smith says he's seen firsthand the results of neglect among these children. Teenagers have pulled their own teeth with pliers because of tooth pain, and he's treated 2-year-olds with up to 12 cavities in their baby teeth.

It's a stereotype rooted in a terrible fact. Central Appalachia is No. 1 in the nation in toothlessness. According to dentists, one of the main culprits is Mountain Dew soda. With 50 percent more caffeine than Coke or Pepsi, Mountain Dew seems to be used as a kind of anti-depressant for children in the hills.