Charlotte Wake explores dental campaigns and explains why getting back to basic prevention is key.
There are so many worthy dental campaigns to support, where do you start? My personal favourite is National Smile Month. It allows you to get back to basics with heartfelt prevention and maybe save a cavity or two.
Running every year, National Smile Month is the longest running and largest campaign to promote good oral health.
Also known for its ‘smileys’, the Oral Health Foundation encourages us to get across its three main messages:
- Brush teeth at night and at one other time with fluoride toothpaste
- Cut down on the quantity and frequency of sugary food and drink
- Attend the dentist regularly.
As a practice, or a dental professional, how you get the message across is entirely up to you. But the charity is here to help support you. Its website is really comprehensive and easy to navigate.
One of the reasons I love this campaign is because it tries to make oral health education fun. We all spend so much of our time giving oral hygiene advice, it can become mundane when faced with the seventh time of doing it that day.
I embrace this campaign and it allows me to get out of the surgery – and I find this really refreshing.
The National Smile Month website – nationalsmilemonth.org – is full of ideas, including the ‘smileathon’ and ‘two-minute challenge’.
The aim of the smileathon is to spread an oral health message far and wide. Get a group of people together and take their photo with the campaign’s smileys. With their permission, post these on social media with an oral health message including the hashtag #mysmileyselfie.
The campaign also advocates the ‘two-minute challenge’. Promoting cleaning for the full two minutes, ask your team, or a willing group, to brush their teeth for what they think is two minutes – as you time them. The person closest to the actual two minutes wins.
Whether you are interested in holding a brushathon, or perhaps going into a local school, it is worth looking at the related literature the Oral Health Foundation offers.
In previous years, my practice has decided to support this campaign with our own little twist. We have arranged to hold an hour-long oral health session in a local school. This is such good fun – we try to make it as interactive and enjoyable as possible.
A team from the practice arrives with plenty of smileys in tow. We put a little goodie bag together for the children. This includes some toothbrushing charts, their smileys, some stickers and a toothbrush.
When there, we teach modified bass technique. We talk about some dental facts and explain what happens during visits to the dentists. For the second half of the session, we talk about hidden sugars and their role in caries.
After much trial and error, we have found the best aid is the use of a felt board with some pictures of sugary foods alongside some tooth-friendly foods (Figure 1). The pictures of the foods are laminated with a Velcro sticker on the back, so they can be moved around the board.
Of course, in a practice where you can’t even get a full lunch hour or coffee break, taking time to make a felt board will seem very indulgent. However, while it takes a couple of hours to make, it can be used for some years, with little maintenance. They are also a big hit with bored children in the waiting room.
During our school visit, each child picks a food picture from the lucky dip – then, as a class, they decide whether that food is good or bad for teeth. We found this can get quite vocal, as the children get very excited. It can also take quite a lot of time, so we decided to invite two children up to the board at a time and encourage a raise of hands rather than any shouting of the answers.
At the end of the session, we ask the children to create posters with the oral health messages they learnt in that lesson. We collect the posters two weeks later and choose our favourite. The winner gets a small prize for their efforts.
There are so many reasons why I love doing this. It is brilliant to be getting back to basic prevention without the time constraints in the surgery.
Also, I do the school visit with the other hygienist in our practice. We work different days, so rarely see each other, only really at practice meetings, so this is a great way to work together and feel part of a team.
Let’s be honest, as a hygienist, the job can be pretty lonely and isolating. We encourage any dental nurses that want to come to take part too. It really is a fun way to support the campaign and break down that wall the tunic creates.
Whatever you decide to do, big or small, the success is not always quantifiable.
Perhaps your press release will give you a free advert that encourages a new patient. Or, maybe your Twitter account will gain more followers from your smiley selfie.
It could be that our school visit did actually prevent a cavity; we may never know the full extent of the success of our individual campaigns.
What I can definitely say is this is my practice’s third year. We will be popping down to a local school again this summer.
From this event, I get the pleasure of working with a fellow hygienist, of getting out of the surgery for a couple of hours and having some fun with interactive oral hygiene, back to basics prevention.
In a world that can feel like I am running on a treadmill, fighting to stay on time and missing every coffee break just to scrub the instruments, it always makes me remember why I joined the profession.
I find these campaigns can be refreshing for both the heart and mind, while doing some good for the general public too.
This article first appeared in Oral Health magazine.
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