Dr Nigel Carter OBE, chief executive of the Oral Health Foundation
A healthy smile is one of your most powerful assets. Your teeth allow you to chew food, help you speak, and they are what gives your face it’s shape. A healthy mouth is also strongly linked to good general health and mental wellbeing. Because of this, it makes sense to give your mouth the best care possible.
That’s exactly what National Smile Month is all about. The charity campaign promotes the value of a healthy smile and communicates the importance of achieving good oral health. Between 16 May and 16 June, the Oral Health Foundation will be reaching out to millions of people, giving them the support, information and tools they need, to achieve a healthy mouth. Sadly, for some, good oral health is more difficult to achieve. Millions of people in the UK suffer from oral health problems that leave them in extreme pain and affect their quality of life. That’s why this year, National Smile Month will be shining a light on inequalities in oral health under the campaign theme of ‘Everyone deserves a healthy smile’.
EVERYONE DESERVES A HEALTHY SMILE
Oral health inequalities affect lots of different people and groups within society. Your age, wealth, level of education and where you live can all determine how healthy, or unhealthy your mouth might be. Inequalities are often preventable. They are also unfair and unjust. In the UK, oral health inequalities can lead to a greater risk of diseases such as tooth decay and gum disease. Tooth loss and tooth extractions are also more common, as is mouth cancer.
Dental phobias and anxieties are increased, and you might find it more difficult to access to frontline care and support services. During National Smile Month, we need your support to help more people achieve a healthier life through better oral health. You can do this by providing information and support for children and families, the elderly and vulnerable, people with disabilities and those living in deprivation or isolation. Throughout National Smile Month, we’ll be working alongside leaders in oral health care, like Oral-B, GSK, Listerine, the Wrigley Oral Healthcare Programme and Align Technology, to address and tackle several important issues.
THE LIFE OF A SMILE
From cradle to grave, your mouth undergoes so many changes. During National Smile Month, we will be reflecting on how to care for the mouth at each stage of your life. Looking after your smile at any age is important and can improve your quality of life. Whether you are a younger person, adult or older person, keeping your mouth healthy can be easy – if you know how.
Each day of the week there will be focus on one life stage to give you all the information you need to develop good oral health habits. The campaign website will have a range of digital assets for you to learn more and share across social media.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE DENTAL TEAM AND THE COST OF A HEALTHY MOUTH
Many people can struggle to maintain their oral health due to financial difficulties. Research by the Oral Health Foundation shows more than one-in-three (36%) UK adults admit that they are sacrificing dental visits to keep their bank balance in check. We have also found that younger adults are most likely to financially struggle with their oral health. Just under two-in-three (59%) 18-24-year-olds freely admit to their financial inability to look after their mouth, teeth, and gums.
Whether it’s replacing your toothbrush when the bristles become splayed, making sure you never run out of toothpaste or mouthwash, or keeping up with your regular dental visits – you don’t have to break the bank to take care of your smile. During National Smile Month, you will be able to pick up lots of money saving tips to keep your oral health in top shape.
Inequalities impact nutrition at all ages and a healthy balanced diet is essential for good oral health. Therefore, another area of focus is going to be nutrition, and why you should be cutting down on the amount of sugar you have and how often you have it. One of the biggest dangers to your oral health is sugar. Sugar works with the bacteria in dental plaque to produce acids which damages your teeth and causes tooth decay. Over time, this often leads to fillings or even tooth extractions. There is also far too much sugar in most people’s diet in the UK. We want to help you make healthy food and drink swaps that will lower your sugar intake.
We will do this by producing recipe cards and videos featuring oral health improvements. You will be able to see a mix of easy family friendly recipes, as well as those for a more adventurous chef. During the campaign, we’ll be encouraging you to snap a photo of your plate at mealtimes and upload it to social media using #RateMyPlate. We will have top nutritionists on hand to access your choices and give you advice for tooth-friendly swaps.
ORAL HEALTH AROUND THE UK
Unfortunately, where you live has a direct impact on oral health. Factors influenced by a person’s postcode include water fluoridation, family income and NHS dental access. We fully support water fluoridation at the Oral Health Foundation. It is a safe and effective measure to reduce dental decay and narrow health inequalities. Disappointingly, only 10% of the country currently have fluoridated water. If we want to reduce oral health inequalities, one of the biggest things local authorities can do is add fluoride to their water supply. I have seen the effect water fluoride can have on a patient’s oral health and it can be astonishing.
NHS dentistry is notoriously difficult to access at present as there is a growing backlog of appointments. We want to raise awareness of all the things you can do at home to manage and even improve your oral health. We know that there is a growing frustration regarding dentistry and lack of access and so if we can empower people to take their oral health into their own hands this could have a brilliant impact on the country’s oral health.
MOUTH MIND AND BODY
There are strong findings that support something that health experts have suspected for a long time… infections in the mouth can be linked with problems in other parts of the body and the mind. For the fifth and final week of National Smile Month, you can learn about the ways the mouth is connected to the rest of the body. This will include how the health of your gums is linked to conditions like diabetes, heart disease and strokes.
You will also be able to explore how the mouth is coupled with the mind. Not only is gum disease linked to various forms of dementia, the condition of your mouth can also influence your mental health. We will be using our social media pages to promote useful oral health resources made for people with a wide range of health conditions in mind, as well as featuring videos and podcasts with experts talking about oral health and the links to the rest of the body.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
On top of learning more about how to look after your oral health, and why it is important, National Smile Month gives you the chance to take part in lots of activities.
Throughout the month, there will be events and competitions for you to sink your teeth into. From Nominate a Smile, which gives you the chance to pick someone in your community who goes the extra mile to make you smile, to the Great British Brushathon on 15 June.
Please visit the National Smile Month website at www.smilemonth.org for more information about how to get involved in this year’s campaign. You can also keep up to date with all our charity’s activities on social media.
Please support National Smile Month. Because everyone deserves a healthy smile.