The thoughts and reflections of Caroline Lappin, Chief Dental Officer for Northern Ireland, as we celebrate 75 years of the NHS.
By Caroline Lappin
Chief Dental Officer
National Smile Month in the UK has launched this week. Between 15 May and 15 June across the UK, oral health professionals will be raising awareness of the benefits of good oral health and the value of a healthy smile.
The theme this year is ‘Brush for better health’.
Every dental professional will tell you that twice daily brushing is the cornerstone to good oral health. It is important as it removes the sticky film on teeth called plaque that, if not removed and builds up, will cause tooth decay and gum disease. In addition, using a toothpaste containing fluoride, gives additional benefits – the huge decline in dental decay worldwide can be largely attributed to daily use of fluoride toothpaste.
Good oral health will mean different things to us all, but your mouth is one of your greatest assets. Think of all the things we use our mouths for – communicating our thoughts, feelings, and needs. Your mouth is needed for the most essential tasks – eating and breathing. A healthy mouth gives you the confidence to socialise and work without pain, discomfort, or embarrassment.
As the world has advanced and health improvements have been made, we have witnessed similar success in oral health. As well as living better and longer, the population has made huge advances in retaining their natural teeth into older age. Oral health was in a very different space in our society even 20 years ago and although great improvements have been made, we still face challenges to oral health and its impact on our daily lives. The headline figures are good, but inequalities in both general and oral health are one of the great challenges remaining in health improvement.
Oral diseases disproportionately affect the most vulnerable and disadvantaged populations. People of low socioeconomic status carry a higher burden of oral diseases and this association remains across the life course, from early childhood to older age, and regardless of the country's overall income level.
A key element in oral health promotion is enabling people to increase control over and improve their own health. We are at a crucial time of change within healthcare. Our traditional approach to focusing on treating oral disease needs to be challenged. We all know that prevention is better than cure, and empowering everyone to prevent dental disease, and maintain a healthy mouth can improve their quality of life and have a smile they can be proud to show.
I am proud to have been an NHS/ HSC dentist since my first post in 2000. I have had the privilege to practice clinical dentistry in general dental practice, hospital dental services, prison dental services and community dental services over the last 23 years. There is no greater feeling than knowing you can alleviate the misery of dental pain! Health service dentistry is an integral part of our HSC in Northern Ireland, and provides care, oral health advice and preventive programmes for many people in Northern Ireland.
I am fully aware of the current difficulties in accessing Health Service dental care. It is an issue across the UK, and the Department of Health and dental representatives are working to find solutions that ensure people can access care when they need too. As we work through this difficult period, self-care is more important than ever. Dental disease is not inevitable.
Finally, during this important month for oral health, I would like to reflect on the strong commitment of dental professionals, both in primary dental care practice, and those employed by Health and Social Care Trusts, to improve oral health in Northern Ireland. Thank you for all that you do.
In addition, non-dentally qualified Health and Social Care professionals, educators, and those in voluntary and community sectors, have played a major role improving oral health, and will continue to be vital as we journey through the life course with an ever- complex ageing population.
So, be proud of your mouth and brush for better health.
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