National Smile Month (NSM) by the Oral Health Foundation (OHF)

On Monday I was privileged to have been invited to attend this year’s launch of National Smile Month (NSM) by the Oral Health Foundation (OHF).

It was a bright sunny day in London, and Sharon and I were among the first to arrive. Soon the room started to fill up with many familiar faces from within dentistry. We were ushered into the main room and this is where the speakers were ready to present.

Mhari Coxon, the new President of the OHF welcomed us to the launch of the 46th NSM, which has the theme of ‘Everyone deserves a healthy smile’ and the aims to focus on dental inequalities, those who are affected by poor oral health who struggle to get access to dental care, or health education, or healthy dietary options. The previous NSM reached over 5 million people, this time they were aiming for 6 million – and why not?

Mhari handed over to Nigel Carter, Chief Executive for the OHF, who thanked the sponsors and explained how after the last 2 years being delivered digitally, how thrilled he was to be back with us face to face. He explained that this year’s NSM would have a different theme each week;

1. Life course of a smile and how this changes.
2. Affordability of the smile – perceived cost is a barrier for some in accessing dental care.
3. Nutrition.
4. The variety in oral health status around the UK, in part due to a lack of NHS dentistry in different areas.
5. The Oral-Systemic connection; the need for good oral health and well-being, to achieve general health and well-being.

Nigel introduced Avijit Banerjee, who explained how the pandemic has further exacerbated problems within dentistry, such as issues with access to dental care, and social inequalities in the UK and worldwide which impact on quality of oral and general health. Avijit recommended a move towards primary prevention, rather than relying on active treatment, to maintain health through the life course. That we must engage with all stakeholders, but especially with patients and the public who need to take responsibility for their oral health, and that as a profession, we must help them by being innovative with behaviour change techniques, and modify the tools which are already there. In this way, we can achieve a National Health Service, not a National Illness Service.

The final speaker was Iain Chapple who presented on ‘The human, economic, and societal cost of periodontitis – time to revisit our priorities’. Iain reminded us of the links between periodontal and systemic health, and that dental diseases are largely preventable, with early diagnosis improving outcomes. The oral healthcare teams need to increase public awareness, and then coach and educate patients more effectively, which would reduce the most amount of disease and lead to the biggest economic benefit for the individual and for society. Iain called for a focus on gingivitis, to somehow ‘make gingivitis sexy’, to better engage with the public to perform their oral hygiene routines more effectively.

Nigel closed the session by explaining how the OHF wanted to take NSM to a wider audience, to change the public mindset from a dental practice being like a repair shop, to explain how they can self-manage and be responsible for their own oral health. Dental teams have also have a responsibility to support the patient in this oral health journey. He invited the audience, and I extend this to you, to go onto the website to download resources, to share what you and your workplace are doing to support NSM using #smilemonth – because everyone deserves a healthy smile!


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