Mhari Coxon – introducing the new president of the Oral Health Foundation

We speak to Mhari Coxon as she takes on her new role as president of the Oral Health Foundation about what the future holds for the charity.

Can you please introduce yourself and give us a bit of background? 

Mhari Coxon: I’m Mhari Coxon and I’m still a registered dental hygienist qualified in 1996. 

But for the last 10 years I’ve been marketing manager in healthcare. I’m currently the marketing manager for Johnson and Johnson for northern Europe and their health care strategy. 

You’ve just been announced as the president for the Oral Health Foundation. How long have you been working with the Oral Health Foundation? 

Mhari Coxon: I’m really delighted and excited to be part of it. I’ve been involved with the oral Health Foundation for quite a long time. Both in clinic and raising awareness around Mouth Cancer Action Month or taking part in National Smile Month and handing out the smiley stickers. 

But I actually joined the board six years ago now.  

I had a year before that actually observing, which was really useful to understand what the board was. 

Then I became president elect two years ago when Ben Atkins became president. I’ve supported in that role, and I’m now transitioning to president this year. 

What exactly does the president of the Oral Health Foundation do? And what are you hoping to achieve? 

Mhari Coxon: It’s a board of governance. It’s a trustee board and so you’re the director for the trustee. You’re a non-executive director. 

It’s all about ensuring that the charity, because it is a charity and it’s a not-for-profit charity, survives and thrives. And that it serves its objectives and that it’s serving the people that it’s been set up to serve. 

It’s a fantastically interesting thing to do. 

When I first got involved, I think I probably wanted to get in there and try and be part of the management team. I had so many ideas about how we could change everything. 

But becoming a trustee and learning governance has been a completely new experience for me. It’s set me up well for my work life as well. 

The two complement each other. I’m able to add that industry perspective. 

My role is really to make people more aware of the great work that the Oral Health Foundation do. 

Maybe break the mythbuster bit around the fact that people don’t realise it’s a charity. 

You know there’s no magic pot of money, there’s no profits, and it’s public facing and public serving. During COVID the dental health line has been very well used. 

It’s still one of the most used first port of calls for the 50% who don’t attend the dentist or who have trouble accessing an NHS dentist. Or perhaps someone who’s homeless or is has challenges there as well. 

The work the charity does is amazing. 

My job is to try and get more people’s attention and be more interested. 

But also to make sure that those strategies are fit for purpose. We have a five-year strategy in place to make sure that we can survive and thrive as a charity. 

What challenges do you think the Oral Health Foundation faces over the next year and five years? 

Mhari Coxon: COVID hit everybody and impacted everyone. It changed all of our lives and we can’t take that away. 

The biggest change was probably a lot of the face-to-face activities. That would impact those public health campaigns, National Smile Month and Mouth Cancer Month. As well as Cancer Awareness Month. 

What the team were able to do, which I was so proud of, was pivot to an almost total digital activation. We were able to have a really successful campaign still. 

Being agile will play an important part over the next three to five years. And because funding is restricted and charities are not receiving as much funding as they were there’s a general awareness issue. 

In this strategy, we have a a plan to make sure that we’re public facing, but we’re moving forward with prevention. In dentistry we’re really good at treating decay and cavities. We’re sort of ok at treating perio. 

But actually, when it comes to prevention we’re really poor. 

And because we’re not funded to prevent, it’s a very difficult financial model to balance. 

And so I think there’s a real challenge for us over the next three to five years to really embrace that prevention awareness. 

The waiting list is huge and preventative oral health has so many positive impacts on our overall health. 

So I think bringing that up the agenda and still being that voice that lobbies and makes people aware, that is something that we should be doing for public health. 

And then focus on other pieces around accreditation. 

The Oral Health Foundation uses a group of peers in the same way as reviewing a scientific paper into a journal. 

There’s a peer review, and if you put your product in and share the science, there’s a peer review and they will endorse the product. 

It gives a sense of trust for the public and helps them know that the products they’re choosing are good. 

There’s a lot going on, and but I think that the structure that we have and the metrics that we’re using and the strategic objectives that we’re measuring against, will keep us focused through that difficult next couple of years and continued success. 

One of the areas of the Oral Health Foundation is very good at is campaigning to raise awareness of mouth cancer. Recently you launched the Mouth Cancer Charter in Westminster. Oral cancer rates are growing, what can we do to help curb these rates? 

Mhari Coxon: Talking as a dental professional as well, we’re screening every patient that we see and the concern is the patients that we don’t see. 

The concern is that people are more nervous to come into environments. 

I think there’s a couple of things that we can do. Reassure our patients that actually there probably isn’t a safer place to come than a dental surgery. Particularly with all the different scope of work that we have to carry out. 

Early detection saves lives. The more we can raise awareness the more likely we catch people a little earlier. 

If something unusual is happening in your mouth and it doesn’t go away after two weeks, then you need to seek advice. 

It’s that simple. I think it’s important to support that awareness in whichever way we can. 

In the grand scheme of cancers, it’s not the one that people think of first. But like you said, actually the survival rates are terrible. I think there’s a bigger problem again with that backlog in the NHS, people feeling that they don’t want to bother their health professionals. 

I think just reinforcing that it’s never a bother, and I think that that is probably very important too. 

But I don’t want to take away from some of the brilliant work that the teams have done, and I know we’ve been supporting for years. 

The big move behind around the human papilloma virus, and the HPV vaccination. It really will make a huge difference. 

We can really reach people through the consumer press and be that professional voice. 

That’s what we’ll do. 

Where do you see the Oral Health Foundation positioning itself amongst the dental profession over the next five years? 

Mhari Coxon: What we’re known in dentistry is for the leaflets and the plain language summaries for patients. 

I’m sure we have them in our waiting rooms. There’s digital versions, of course. But we’re that patient focused, unbiased point of view of education. That’s where we add value. 

Obviously, we have this fantastic wealth of educational tools. There’s a lot of ability to drive prevention in your practice using the Oral Health Foundation’s tools. 

And then we support schemes as well. 

So, if you’ve got an idea and there’s something that you want to do, there’s a lot of community projects that we support. 

The most important piece of equity that you build and one of the best ways to do that is to get out in the community and show what you’re about as a practice. 

Then there’s also the opportunity to fundraise for the Oral Health Foundation so that we can continue to do that work. 

We’ve seen lots of Miles for Smiles. They’ve walked all the way around the UK many times with many dental professionals to raise funds. 

I also think there is a positive image to put across to the press too. The misinformation that comes from the press can be quite frustrating. We can be that voice and help correct that. 

I think we have a responsibility to the profession. 

But our main responsibility is to the public. And so use us to to help build that trust with your public as well. 

Is there anything else you wanted to add? 

Mhari Coxon: I would just like to say and reiterate just how rewarding it is to become a trustee. Become a part of that trustee board. You will learn a governing skill and we need people to come in. 

If you’re interested, please have a look at the website. 

There’s some really good information or reach out and speak to any of the trustee board.

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