Spreading the oral health message to children

Dentaid DenplanDentistry speaks to Dentaid’s Jacqueline James about the early years oral health programme and how the charity’s partnership with Denplan has helped this and its mobile clinics grow.

Tell us a bit about Dentaid and your role there

Jacqueline James: Dentaid has been going for more than 25 years. We are a dental charity that provides free dental care for homeless and vulnerable people both in the UK and overseas. 

I’ve worked as a project manager at Dentaid for more than 11 years, mainly focusing on our overseas work.

The pandemic brought some of this on hold, so as this is slowly returning in 2022, I currently also look after our Brightbites programme, which is our oral health education scheme.

What is the Brightbites oral health education programme all about?

JJ: Brightbites teaches young children about the importance of looking after their teeth. 

The programme has actually been running in the background for quite a few years.

But due to our partnership with Denplan, part of Simplyhealth, we’ve been able to give the literature and resources a much-needed overhaul. 

Their funding has enabled us to expand our literature to cover early years settings, so nurseries as well as primary school-age children.

With figures showing around a quarter of children that start primary have some tooth decay already, we’ve wanted to expand our programme into this area for quite some time. 

We all know how vital it is to get young children and their families to have more awareness about the importance of creating good oral health routines from an early age.

You’ve recently seen an increased interest from schools and early years settings on oral health education. What has changed?

JJ: We’ve had a huge spike in requests, since the government changed the early years curriculum to include oral health in September last year. 

This is such a positive step in having more focus on oral health from an earlier age. 

While we take requests to deliver the Brightbites programme from all schools and early years settings across the UK, we really focus on hard-to-reach and deprived areas.

It’s all about reaching children in areas of social deprivation, as well as where families experience poverty. 

Brightbites has also been used at schools and support groups for children with special educational needs.

We also work with our volunteer dental professionals who help us identify local groups and schools they know, who could benefit from the Brightbites programme.

Your new Brightbites literature has just returned from the printers. You now also cover early years as well as schools. How were the resources developed?

JJ: With Denplan’s funding, Brightbites now has two new sets of leaflets aimed at early years children and primary school children. 

We’ve had clinical input into these, and have had a lot of support from our charity’s oral health educator, dental hygienist, Anne Powders, in helping us to develop the content. 

The literature includes information about oral health routines, healthy diet, the importance of visiting a dentist, as well as advice for parents. 

We also have resources for teachers, including classroom activities, lesson plans, experiments to work alongside the curriculum and enhance volunteer visits.

Denplan’s partnership with us, which started last year, has also allowed us to supply toothbrushes and toothpaste for all the children we see. 

Sadly, so many early years settings we visit in deprived areas still have children who don’t own a toothbrush. Noticeably many of our early setting visits also show how many children under the age of three have never had a dental check-up.

You mention your volunteers. Who can get involved in the Brightbites programme?

JJ: Any dental professionals from practice teams can get involved and register their interest on our website.

We know many practices visit schools already and could maybe benefit from using our resources, by linking up with us as a Brightbites volunteer. 

We also have non-clinical staff volunteering, from practice managers to receptionist staff who want to help their community and have great oral health knowledge.

The application process is short, but as part of working in early years settings, volunteers need a DBS check ahead of starting.

The other stream of Denplan’s funding announced as part of your partnership last year has helped fund 25 mobile ‘Denplan Outreach Clinics’. Tell us more about these.

JJ: Our mobile dental units travel the country offering free dental treatment for the most vulnerable people in society to people who otherwise may not have the opportunity to see a dentist. 

We take our dental surgeries on wheels to shelters, hostels and day centres for people who are experiencing homelessness or are temporarily housed who often find it difficult to access dental care. 

Many homeless and vulnerable people aren’t registered with a dentist and live with long-term pain and infections.

Sadly, 70% of homeless people have dental problems and 15% have tried to extract their own teeth.

Last year alone, we held more than 170 mobile dental clinics, which are all staffed by dental industry volunteers, including Denplan member dentists.

What are the main oral health issues you see at your clinics? 

JJ: Many of our patients haven’t attended a dentist for 20 or even 30 years. So our first step is to build up their trust and re-engage them with dentistry.

We often see people in acute pain who need extractions or fillings or antibiotics for swellings.

But just as important is the chance to increase someone’s confidence in their smile – whether that’s a scaling, restorative treatments or even dentures. 

All our patients also receive mouth cancer screenings. Ultimately, if we just get someone to gain the confidence to sit in the chair, talk to a dentist and learn how to properly brush their teeth, we see that as a huge win too.

You use volunteer dentists for the outreach clinics. What are they feeding back about their experience giving up their valuable time away from their day-to-day practice? 

JJ: We offer our volunteers a way of giving back and helping the most vulnerable people in their own communities, who they would never get to see in their normal working week. 

We’ve had volunteers say they can now provide dental care for rough sleepers they used to buy a cup of coffee for on their way to work.

They tell us it’s a hugely rewarding experience and they really enjoying working on the mobile dental unit.  

Every clinic is supported by two members of Dentaid staff who make sure that everyone has a safe, enjoyable experience and so many of our volunteers sign up to help us again – which we take as a good sign!

Where are the Denplan Outreach Clinics going over the coming months?

JJ: In the coming months we’ll be running clinics in Dorset, Hampshire, Sussex, Kent and Wiltshire.

And we’re launching new clinics in the Midlands and Yorkshire later this year all enabled by our partnership.  

For more information, or to volunteer, contact [email protected]. To get involved Dentaid’s Brightbites programme visit www.dentaid.org/bright-bites. To find out more about Denplan’s partnership with Dentaid, visit www.simplyhealth.co.uk/our-partners/dentaid.

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