Oral health promotion for the dental professional in 2021
Over the past months, I have been running a course, titled “How to launch an oral health promotion project/business”, which is part of my Smile Revolution platform. The course is open to all dental professionals—dentists, therapists, hygienists and nurses—who want to explore opportunities of expanding their horizon beyond the purely clinical work of the practice.
I have recently completed running the course for the fourth cohort of attendees and have begun to mentor them, which has proved to support the ongoing development of their projects, and demand remains consistently high for places. However, there is a perception that opportunities and career pathways are limited, unknown or far too complicated to pursue. Hence the need for a course to help others navigate the different pathways possible and explore opportunities. There are a steady stream of people wanting to win sponsored places on the courses, which have been funded by Philips Oral Healthcare.
The feedback I have received from both course applicants and participants is that the majority of oral health promotional work has historically been conducted on a voluntary basis when dental professionals had additional time available outside their normal working hours. It has not been perceived as an opportunity to develop a commercial project.
Since starting the course, I have witnessed eager individuals who are keen to make a difference and overflowing with wonderful ideas but who do not know how to implement such ideas. Initially, they struggle to see how they can develop and apply their transferrable skills. There is also the paradox of dental professionals who clearly have a broad insight into the challenges involved but who seem to be fazed by the difficulties of implementing change. It is widely accepted that, historically, our training as dental professionals does not include project management or business development. These two key areas have been fundamental in the development of the Smile Revolution platform and are part of the course content that is helping attendees to execute their exciting ideas.
Course participants often speak of ideas they would like to pursue and turn into projects, yet a variety of limitations and a lack of skills hold back this development. An audit conducted among them at the start of the courses has identified a myriad of reasons why oral health promotion is not considered as a sustainable business model:
- Lack of accessibility
- Busy lives
- Lack of cooperation
- Not having the right tools in place to develop sustainable programmes
- Lack of awareness
- Lack of experience
- Lack of financial support/high cost
- Lack of market recognition
- Lack of patient motivation
- Lack of perceived importance of oral health
- Lack of professional support
- Lack of public support
- Lack of schemes and programmes
- Lack of time
- Lack of training opportunities/ confidence
- Limited public interest
- Oral health regarded a low priority
Whether people have attended my course or simply expressed an interest in doing so, the content obtained through the application forms has reinforced my belief that dental professionals have got all it takes to pursue oral health projects. They merely lack the additional skills needed to pursue such superb ideas. It is also clear that collaboration with other professionals both inside dentistry and outside of it will help facilitate and bring to fruition such oral health promotion projects.
I am grateful that Philips shares my vision and has supported the courses from the outset. More than 100 dental professionals have since applied to win a Philips-sponsored place. To be considered for a sponsored place, participants must complete an online form, which asks them to comment on the challenges and opportunities of oral health promotion and to indicate which skills they personally find valuable in oral health promotion. This provides greater insight into what is really needed to support the development of sustainable projects.
The findings are reassuring, and show that the profession is fully aware of the many opportunities oral health promotion offers, as well as the many platforms available for exploration. These include media channels such as TV, YouTube channels and social media. Promotions can take place in schools, universities, theatres, refugee centres, youth clubs, hospitals, nursing homes, COVID-19 vaccination centres, supermarkets and many other workplaces. Awareness can be raised with medical personnel, health visitors, midwives, toddler groups and families.
“Change is needed more than ever in dentistry”
Once the course attendees have identified the project and the platform, the dental professionals are supported in building the necessary skills to bring their projects to life and in developing awareness of when to outsource in order to acquire additional skills where needed. This support is necessary to take these projects forward and ensure they are sustainable. It is thanks to support from industry partners such as Philips that oral health projects are now being launched and professionals’ career paths are developing in new directions. It is possible that many similar corporate entities would be happy to support oral health promotional work if potential projects were made known to them.
Projects do not have to take place in the community; small changes can also begin in the context of a business—for example, in a sponsoring company. Projects could include:
- A sugar-free morning and afternoon challenge within the workplace, where all those who forgo a sweetened drink are put into a draw to win a complimentary tooth-whitening appointment.
- A loyalty programme within a workplace for all members of staff to attend a healthy eating workshop, with a cookery demonstration and the provision of healthy food swap recipes. All staff could be issued with a healthy food swap challenge which could then be tracked and monitored. All those who attend the workshops could be given a voucher for their next dental hygiene appointment.
There are endless possibilities for projects, and throughout the coming weeks, I will continue to share project development ideas which support oral health promotion.
Once the need has been established, the next step is to think more about the actual project. How could this be delivered? Through what means? To how many people? This list grows as attendees move through the development stage to the final project, slowly refining this until it can be brought to successful fruition.
One such success was achieved by dental nurse Jo Dawson, who attended the course and subsequently expanded her project. Her project aims to eliminate dried and processed fruit snacks in primary schools, to improve the oral health of children in primary schools and to link dental practices with primary schools. She is continuously overcoming the challenges she faces by implementing what she has learned through the course and is still learning from continuous mentoring through the Smile Revolution growth hub community. With the great support she has received, she is now launching a much broader campaign initiative that has the potential to reach millions.
Change is difficult to effect, but the reward—when it comes—is worth it. Change is needed more than ever in dentistry as we continue to overcome oral health inequalities and aspire to facing the challenges presented in the FDI World Dental Federation Vision 2030 report. The World Health Organization’s World Health Assembly resolution approved in May paves the way for better oral healthcare: “It also recommends a shift from the traditional curative approach towards a preventive approach that includes promotion of oral health within the family, schools and workplaces, and includes timely, comprehensive and inclusive care within the primary healthcare system.”
Now here is the question: what skills do dental professionals need to bring about change? I would suggest that they need a strong desire to make a difference, perseverance, passion, reflective learning, a willingness to explore the unknown, openness, flexibility, communication skills and a desire to acquire leadership skills.
The two latest winners of Philips-sponsored places have many of these skills and are starting projects in nursing homes and a prison environment. I cannot wait to help them unleash their potential. Once a course has ended, my role does not stop there. There is the option of mentoring attendees to carry on the support and guidance. Philips has confirmed that it is keen to sponsor mentoring places, and I am thrilled about this too!
The next five-week course will begin on 28 October. For more information, please visit www.smile-revolution.net.