It's National Smile Month

National Smile Month: Raising Awareness of Oral Health

If you believe everything you read in the newspapers, Britain is in the midst of a “tooth decay crisis”. However, as we enter ‘National Smile Month’ – an initiative that runs from May 18th until June 18th aimed at raising awareness about the importance of oral health – aims to dispel a few myths about the tired “British Smile” stereotype.

Are our teeth getting better or worse?

In March 2015, the latest Children’s Dental Health Survey for England, Wales and Northern Ireland was published, prompting many news outlets to run with sensationalist headlines about the poor standard of our children’s teeth.

The survey concluded that 46% of 15-year-olds now display obvious evidence of tooth decay, which is clearly a huge concern. That being said, many newspapers glossed over the fact that this figure had fallen by 10% between 2003 and 2013, and that cases of serious tooth decay among 12 to 15-year-olds are also in decline, which suggests things are improving, albeit perhaps not at the speed in which our dentists would like.

Speaking shortly after the results were published, Dr Nigel Carter, Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, suggested that although there’s still plenty of room for improvement, it’s encouraging to see things heading in the right direction.

“It’s always pleasing to see any level of improvements in oral health, particularly for children. Having said that, it is very much a mixed bag of results,” he remarked, before stating that there’s a “wealth of evidence” that links childhood tooth decay with deprivation and that the addition of fluoride in toothpaste has helped to reduce decay by 50%.

What is being done to improve our teeth further?

Schemes such as the upcoming National Smile Month should help to reinforce the message that we need to take our dental health far more seriously.

The vast popularity of sugar-rich energy drinks and confectionary has undoubtedly made life much harder for dentists and parents across the UK. In fact, the British Dental Health Foundation recently called for sugary drinks to be subjected to the same advertising rules as tobacco products, with the organisation claiming that this would have a significantly positive impact on the health of young ones.

Professor Nairn Wilson, a trustee of the dental group, said that sugar is the “biggest health time-bomb we face today”, and he feels that manufacturers of unhealthy drinks shouldn’t be allowed to sponsor high-profile events.

“Proposals such as the introduction of a duty on sugary drinks and brands reducing the amount of sugar in their soft drinks have both been mooted in the last 12 months, and a ban on advertising is another step the government can take to bring about significant health improvements,” Professor Wilson commented.

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, a long-term campaigner for healthy school meals, has also weighed in on the debate by calling for a “Singapore-style ban on chewing gum in public”. However, his manifesto has been criticised by Dr Nigel Carter, who stressed that sugar-free chewing gum “has so many health benefits that I’m staggered by his [Jamie Oliver’s] proposal to ban it”.

According to Dr Carter, chewing sugar-free gum washes away food debris, remineralises tooth enamel and neutralises plaque acids. This, if nothing else, demonstrates the point that there are plenty of misconceptions surrounding oral health, so it’s important that we listen to the experts.

Make your voices heard

Much of the UK’s perceived dental health issues boil down to one thing – a lack of awareness. As discussed, there are many myths and misconceptions surrounding oral health, so it’s vital that people are better informed, especially if they have children.

That’s why it’s encouraging to see events such as National Smile Month being held in the UK, and this is a great chance for dentists to make their voices heard. Jane Kidson, Oral B Professional Oral Health UK Country Leader, summed the situation up quite nicely when she said: “Dentistry often receives little ‘airplay’ in the consumer press and National Smile Month provides the ideal opportunity to get people motivated.”

What will you be doing to raise awareness of the best oral care practices?