Celebrating World Oral Health Day with a shiny new set (of data!)

Everyone knows when Pancake Day is, right? But do you know 20th of March is World Oral Health Day?

Nearly 100 health conditions, like diabetes, cancer and HIV have symptoms that show up in the mouth. Oral health is an often-overlooked indicator of our health. It is a window to our health and provides us with valuable clues about our overall health and wellbeing.

The Public Health Intelligence Team had just published the JSNA suite of products, with interactive information on health outcomes, health behaviours, clinical care, social and economic factors, and physical environment. BUT there was a big “molar-sized” gap, there was nothing covered in terms of oral health or NHS dental treatment. In fact, a quick search on Essex Open Data will tell you that there has been nothing published, on the topics of oral or dental health (YET).

So, our team set out to do Essex County Council’s first ever Oral Health Needs Assessment!

We looked at the needs assessments published by other local authorities, latest research and came up with a plan. We wanted to present a well-rounded picture of oral health needs in Essex, and tackled this from several angles. We explored:

  • Prevalence of some common oral health problems like dental decay, and gum disease
  • Research on several oral health inequalities
  • How oral health impacts wider health and wellbeing
  • Resident’s experiences to get an understanding of access to oral health services in Essex, barriers people face and identify any potential gaps in service provision.

We found the districts which had high burden of dental decay in children and adults, and interviews with our residents helped us identify some common barriers in accessing dental services in Essex. Risk factors for several non-communicable diseases like smoking, alcohol consumption, diet rich in sugars are also risk factors for oral diseases.

These are being addressed in various ways by ECC and partners, so creating programmes which prevent a large number of health conditions is a better use of financial resources and more effective to improve overall wellbeing.

Our findings could not have come at a more ideal time!

We were circulating our findings to key stakeholders when it was shared with Suffolk and North East Essex ICB. They had short term funding for a supervised toothbrushing programme and invited our team to present our key findings to their dental taskforce. This led to ECC being given a grant to roll out a supervised toothbrushing for early years settings in Colchester and Tendring. We further supported this programme by calculating dental decay rates using small area statistics, to drill down on settings which will have the best benefit from our programme.

As a team we are quite proud of the real impact that this piece of work has created. In fact, it also led to our team members to think more about their personal dental care and even inspired one of our team members to get braces! Talk about wins!

Talking about preventing oral health problems is even more important in the current cost of living crisis. There is a lot of focus on heating and energy bills (as it rightly needs), but no one is talking about the alarming impact it can have on your teeth.

During our recent resident’s research exploring cost of living challenges, a couple of participants also told us they were putting off dentistry work they needed as they couldn’t afford it. Additionally, research by Oral Health Foundation has shown that 1 in 4 adults in the UK are cutting back on oral hygiene products. Parents are having less money to spend on their child’s teeth, which if left unchecked can lead to several problems down the line.

So, on this International World Oral Health Day, I urge you all to think if you can embed a component of oral health in your programmes. Together let’s make a big deal about oral health.

The full Oral Health Needs Assessment is now live on Essex Open data.

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