Interview - Dr Linda Greenwall
Monday, May 27, 2019
The trust has called on the Government to urgently fund supervised toothbrushing programmes in nurseries and schools to combat the ‘tooth decay crisis’
WHAT WAS THE MOTIVATION BEHIND SETTING UP THE DENTAL WELLNESS TRUST?
I set up the Dental Wellness Trust (DWT) in 2011, with the aim of improving the general health and well-being of children through dental wellness, especially those living in less fortunate communities. This is done by providing dental treatment, supervised toothbrushing programmes and oral healthcare education both in the UK and overseas. There are thousands of children who don’t have access to a toothbrush, oral health education or dental care and so the DWT is doing its part to address these issues.
Initially set up to help communities in South Africa (with over 80 per cent tooth decay rates in children under five), we now have more than 15,000 children using our supervised toothbrushing programmes daily there. We have expanded this to the UK to address the ever-worsening crisis of child dental health.
WHAT PROJECTS DO YOU RUN?
Tooth decay remains the leading cause of hospital admissions for children, yet some parents remain oblivious to the shocking state of their child’s teeth. This is why the DWT is putting prevention into practice with our supervised tooth brushing programmes, together with the distribution of free toothpaste and brush packs for daily brushing in the classroom. They form part of Public Health England’s recommendations as an effective strategy to prevent early childhood decay.
We noticed that Luton has one of the worst childhood decay rates in the UK in under-fives and so initially we began to focus on this area. We are now reaching more than 1,500 children daily in schools in Luton. Due to the success of the work in Luton, we have attracted the attention of schools and nurseries in the boroughs of Newham and Westminster in London, all which are now also participating in the DWT supervised toothbrushing programmes.
We’ve also been working with two LEYF nurseries: Katharine Bruce Community Nursery and Micky Star, where the programme has been fantastically received by parents, teachers and the children.
WHY ARE YOU CALLING FOR MORE GOVERNMENT FUNDING FOR TOOTHBRUSHING PROGRAMMES IN NURSERIES AND SCHOOLS?
Every day we, as dentists, see a large number of children that require not just a simple filling but often multiple fillings or extractions. These children can often attend with severe dental infections and swollen faces, needing antibiotics or even sedation or a general anaesthetic. This is bordering on dental neglect and what is worse is that it is almost completely avoidable.
Our recent survey findings reinforced the need for supervised toothbrushing programmes and oral healthcare education to be far more widely available to reduce the suffering of children and the cost burden on the NHS. The Government spends colossal amounts of money when children are admitted to hospital for extractions. It’s not just the cost, it’s other factors such as lost days at nursery, parents taking time off work, as well as the social implications such as developing dental phobias which then impacts greatly on the NHS down the line when patients need years of expensive treatment to correct what could have been prevented in their youth.