When the buzzer goes off, eight year old Haley Kennedy knows it's time to stop brushing.

With help from her dad, Haley uses a two-minute timer when she brushes her teeth. She knows the consequences if she doesn't take care of them.

"Your teeth are going to go black," she said.

The Grade 3 student was Ron Kelly's last patient of the day in a makeshift dental office inside Nakasuk Elementary School in Iqaluit, home to the Nunavut oral health project. 

Kennedy is missing a few teeth, placed in a pocket for the tooth fairy to pick up. She's looking at braces down the road but other than that, her teeth are in good shape. That's not the case for many of the patients Kelly sees.

"Oral health in Nunavut generally is not as good as in the general Canadian population," said Kelly, who is the territory's chief dental officer.

"Amongst the young kids, that zero to eight age range, it's particularly bad I think and it gives the kids a bad start in terms of oral health, so we're trying to improve that."

Dental services free for kids 8 and under

The oral health program started in 2013 in partnership with the Public Health Agency of Canada, Health Canada and the Government of Nunavut. It offers free exams and fluoride treatment for any children in the territory up to eight years old.

Last year, Health Canada took over funding, pledging $2.3 million each year for three years.

Kelly said the program is offered in nearly every community in the territory.

"We're not trying to do anything heroic. We're not trying to do anything aesthetic. Our aim is to make sure kids aren't in pain and that they have no active infection in their mouths. It's not a lofty goal but if we could accomplish that for every child age zero to eight in Nunavut that would be a huge step forward," Kelly said.

Kids leave with a package of toothpaste and a toothbrush for them and one for their parents.

The Government of Nunavut recently spent around $22,000 purchasing 43,000 toothbrushes in part for the program, the vast majority for infants and young children.

Pearly whites

Kelly admits taking care of your teeth is hard for anyone. Support from parents goes a long way.

That's what Rorenda Kennedy does with her two children.

She remembers having junk food readily available growing up in Arviat and having several trips to the dentist, also at her school. Now, she wants her kids to have healthier teeth and is cautious about what they eat.

"I went to the dentist more usually than my kids and I didn't want that for my kids," she said. "They don't have junk food Monday to Friday but weekends they're allowed to have a snack."

This is the last year Haley will qualify for the oral health program, But Kelly hopes it will set her up for a future of healthy teeth. 

"We think if we can get 70 per cent of the kids to engage in good oral health practices, that would be very good," he said. "If we could get 100 per cent that would be fabulous."