How one dental nurse is changing the future of children’s oral health

As the autumn term gets underway, a partnership between a Cambridge school and a nearby dental practice is set to be an inspiring template for community collaborations to promote healthy teeth.

The Awesome Oral Health campaign, powered by dental nurse Jo Dawson, helps to facilitate partnerships around the UK between schools and dental practices.

Her campaign is supported by many dental organisations, particularly since oral health has been included in the curriculum.

Jo works at the Devonshire House dental practice in Cambridge. Her children go to a nearby school. Her clinical director, Wail Girgis, explained how Jo takes the lead with the campaign.

‘It’s very empowering for dental nurses to take on a role like this. If more dental practices formed a partnership with their local primary school, it could lead to massive change. This is the right thing to do.’

Forging a relationship

He said what Jo was doing was very special. ‘If you talk directly to the children and explain how harmful sugary snacks can be, they get it. If you reach them young enough, they absorb the message.’

Support also comes from headteacher, Carol Shaw of Pendragon Community Primary School, who said that the collaboration with Devonshire House was supported by the teaching staff and the governors.

The dental practice funds tooth-friendly vegetables to be supplied to the school on the first day of each term and half-term. This replaces the raisins given out by the School Fruit and Vegetable Service (SFVS).

Miss Shaw said: ‘The concept of forging a relationship with a dental practice is inspired. Children and their parents are now more aware of the importance of healthy eating and regular tooth-brushing. It’s a wonderful collaboration.’

Jo’s campaigning work began after her first daughter went to the school. Jo loves that her daughter receives daily fresh fruit – or sometimes vegetables – from the SFVS. But she is unhappy that dried raisins are supplied as a snack on the first day of term as well as the first day after half-term. This led to Jo establishing the Raisin Awareness Campaign in 2018.

She said: ‘I had to raise awareness of the increased risk of tooth decay posed by snacking on dried fruit.

‘Twice a term may not seem like a big deal. But if the school gives its blessing to raisins delivered by the SFVS, headteachers can’t ask parents not to send in dried fruits for the older children’s snacks every day.’

Limit high-sugar products

Having been recognised by the British Society of Paediatric Dentistry, Jo raised the bar. She established a Community Interest Company, Awesome Oral Health.

She is on a mission to help families understand how harmful sweet drinks and snacks can be. In addition, she wants them to follow evidence-based dental advice to limit any products high in sugar to mealtimes.

Nigel Carter OBE is chairman of the Oral Health Foundation. He said: ‘Jo has come up with a fantastic idea of encouraging dental practices to create formal links with the schools in their area.

‘With oral health coming into the Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 curricula for the first time this academic year, the time has never been better to raise the profile of oral health in schools and the importance of a healthy diet.’

Innovative ideas

Ben Atkins, also an advisory board member and oral health ambassador said: ‘The initiative is an amazing one. Information and education at this early stage will make such a massive difference in the fight against a fully preventable disease like dental decay.’

Urshla (Oosh) Devalia, BSPD’s Honorary Secretary said: ‘Innovative ideas to improve oral health are often embedded in community collaboration. The Awesome Oral Health initiative is a great example.

‘BSPD is passionate about supporting innovations of this kind. We are delighted that Jo Dawson, a previous runner-up in BSPD’s Outstanding Innovation Award, is driving forward her educational agenda.

‘As a next step, we would like to see a pilot scheme in which dental practices partner with schools. Here, they can obtain an understanding of the challenges and benefits of a collaborative approach and how such partnerships might work in the interests of children’s oral health.’

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