Mouth to Mouth Education

June 16, 2016

Mouth to Mouth Education

Image courtesy of Nenetus via freedigitalphotos

Whoever you are, I agree with you. Indeed, I strongly agree. You wrote anonymously to The Guardian about the secret life of a dentist ( Talking about the rise in hospital admissions to remove decayed teeth in children, you said: “I think we need stronger oral health education on a national level.” It is this statement for which I would tick the ‘strongly agree’ box.

Not only should oral health education for parents be stronger but it should start sooner – as soon as their child’s first tooth appears, if not before.


Ignoring is bliss

In advocating better oral health education, I am aware of the counter argument – that trying to educate people to be safer, more sensible or healthier simply doesn’t work in many cases. We all know the very real risks associated with excessive speed but still drivers exceed the speed limits. Drunk driving is potentially a killer but many people do it. People still smoke, still eat junk food, still climb hills in flip-flops and a t-shirt.


Tell, show, do

What does work in many cases, is being given advice and told the risks by someone. Preferably someone you know but certainly someone you can trust. Who of us hasn’t been impressed by a friend or relative describing how much better they feel following a change of diet? Hearing the consequences of driving too fast from someone we know who was involved in an accident, suffered injuries and inconvenience, faced much greater insurance premiums and subjected their family to unnecessary worry has an immediate and lasting impact (no pun intended).

Even something as simple as being told and then shown how to avoid potential injuries by closing kitchen cupboard doors or not leaving wires trailing is readily remembered.


Let’s get oral

So, from whom should this face-to-face advice come? Midwives, health visitors, pre-school workers and child minders are all in positions of trust and respect. They have established relationships with parents and parents-to-be. In many cases, they will be able to relate their own experiences – what advice they took with their child’s diet, brushing of teeth and visits to the dentist.


And dentists?

I believe there’s also a role, not especially for dentists in this case, but for some dental practice team members. In hospitals and GP surgeries, they employ healthcare assistants (HCAs). They work under the guidance of a qualified professional (often a nurse) and (in GP surgeries) do tasks such as taking blood samples and sterilising equipment. Importantly, they can also do health education.

In a medical centre I visited recently, I heard about the work of two of their HCAs. One helps patients with weight management, the other advises on smoking cessation. They meet weekly with patients either in small groups or, more often, one-to-one – dealing with about six at any one time. They discuss the appropriate advice with patients and any barriers to following it and often agree targets for the coming week. I was told the success rate is about four out of every six patients giving up smoking or losing weight. There could well be a spin off in terms of successful patients helping their friends or relatives achieve the same ends.



Surely the role of Extended Duties Dental Nurses (EDDNs) in oral health education should be developed to include pre-natal and post-natal advice about children’s oral health? Yes, it means liaising with hospitals, midwives and general practitioners but isn’t this what joined up healthcare is all about? Post certificate qualifications in oral health education are available.

The question is, do dentists want their nurses potentially reducing future work or permanently by their side handing over instruments?


Answers on a (digital) postcard to me, Nicki Rowland, at info@pmpā€