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Oral health promotion for children: whose responsibility is it?

Blog Author Valentina Daskalovic

Blog Date 22/01/2018

 

valentina-daskalovic-300px.jpg​For the past 13 years I have been organising oral health education for a primary church school in Chelsea – I started this when my own child started attending the school, and I realised no-one was talking to the children about their oral health.

 

As a dentist, I found this a bit shocking, and I felt the need to do something about it.

 

So now, once a year, myself and my nurse, with a help of four other volunteer parents, spend a day at the school plaque disclosing, and teaching brushing techniques to every single child at the school.

 

We talk to all of the children, from year one to year six (so, quite a broad range of ages!).

 

We take the children into the toilets in small groups, with their toothbrushes and talk to them about brushing, showing them how to brush properly, for how long and how often they should do it.

 

During the year, I'll also give up my time to give a talk on oral health to the different classes - the school curriculum current now focuses on topics like the human body, and I'll try to time my talks to coincide with that – to help raise awareness of the importance of looking after teeth.

 

We also pick a few children to be dental ambassadors throughout the year. They explore different topics of oral health and have a presentation at the end of the year. They are also tasked with talking to their classmates about what they are learning.

 

We talk to children about the need to visit the dentist regularly and encourage them to ask their parents to take them. For the younger ones – understandably - this message perhaps isn't getting through.

 

I'd say, in about 25% of children, I have seen signs of decay.

 

The levels of plaque in a lot of the children is also quite concerning.

 

The school is in the relatively affluent borough of Chelsea, although like most areas of London, but there are also pockets of high-needs and deprivation, and this school is a state-supported school, so the intake of children is from a range of all backgrounds.

 

Our problem is that, even when I see the same child (year after year), possibly starting out with signs of decay and getting worse and worse, there is not really a lot I can do about helping to prevent it.

 

I've asked the teachers if I can be put in touch with the parents, to talk to them about their children's oral health and how to look after their children's teeth better, but due to various restrictions, the teachers are not allowed to do this.

 

So, my question is, whose responsibility should this be and can we get it done in a way that has maximum impact? It's no good me talking to the younger children, if the parents are not going to be involved too.

 

And there is the question of who should foot the bill for doing this? I'm giving up my time, at a not insignificant cost to do this. I currently work in private practice, so I am lucky to be able to find some time, but it is time that I could be earning money, so this is my choice to volunteer – is this an ideal situation?

 

And, many NHS practices perhaps cannot afford to give up the time to do work like this, and it's ironic that they may be in areas that might have the highest levels of decay or need.

 

As far as I am aware, there is no joined-up oral health promotion scheme for teaching children about oral health in my borough.

 

I'd love to see something being done on a London-wide, if indeed, on a national-scale, to help us fight the avoidable problem of tooth decay: someone needs to take on the responsibility.

 

Valentina Daskalovic, dentist

 

 

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