Winning Smiles Schools Programme

Schools Oral Health Promotion Programme for 7 to 8-Year-Olds

Winning Smiles Launch 140906An Taoiseach, Mr. Bertie Ahern, T.D. officially launched the Report of the 'Winning Smiles' Schools Oral Health Promotion Programme for 7 to 8-year-olds at the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, No. 6 Kildare St. Dublin 2, on Thursday, 14th September 2006.

The 'Winning Smiles' research programme is an innovative school-based oral health promotion programme, the first of its kind to embrace an all-island perspective.

The programme set out:

  • to encourage toothpaste use;
  • to improve child oral health-related quality of life and self-esteem;
  • and to increase children's oral health-related knowledge and attitudes;
  • assess changes in reported oral health behaviours among children living in relative poverty.

All of these actions have a significant role in improving oral health and preventing dental decay; which has been identified as one of the most common childhood diseases, but equally acknowledged as being easily preventable. Those children that embarked on the programme were shown to have increased their toothpaste use from the beginning of the study as well as increasing their oral health-related quality of life, self-esteem and knowledge and attitudes relating to their oral health.

Speaking at the launch, the Taoiseach remarked that;

"The Programme has been of huge benefit to the children concerned. We are never too young to learn and I know that the students here today have been very enthusiastic about this opportunity to get involved. The report itself represents a significant advance in our understanding of ways to improve oral health and reduce inequalities in oral health."

The programme was introduced and evaluated in randomly selected schools identified as being in areas of high social deprivation and disadvantage in Dublin and Belfast.

Consisting of a controlled trial and several qualitative studies, the Winning Smiles Research Programme has been shown to have a positive impact on the oral health of children involved in the study, with all children increasing their use of fluoride toothpaste from the beginning of the trial. This quantitative aspect of the report was led by Dr. Helen Whelton, Principal Investigator and Director of the Oral Health Services Research Centre, University College Cork.

According to Dr. Whelton:

“The controlled trial evaluated the use of a new objective measure, the equilibrium salivary fluoride level, which essentially functions like a lie detector test for toothbrushing - allowing researchers to see if children who reported brushing their teeth regularly, actually did!"

Additionally, children attending participating schools experienced improvements in their oral health-related quality of life, oral health awareness and oral and social self-image.
The programme also investigated the children's own perspectives and feelings on toothbrushing habits and rules, and provides a valuable insight into children's beliefs regarding oral health. This novel approach highlighted the excitement experienced by the children who participated in the programme. This qualitative aspect of the report was led by Dr. Ruth Freeman and her team from Dental Public Health and Behavioural Sciences, Queen's University Belfast.

Professor Freeman states:

“The children's excitement with the programme was evident from the start. These are very encouraging findings with increases in children's oral health-related quality of life, as well as increases in their oral health status awareness and oral and social self-image. This is pertinent for children residing in areas of high social deprivation as they may experience low self-esteem and may feel disempowered with regard to preventing oral diseases."

Oral health promoters and school personnel also found the Research Programme to be a positive experience and one that is feasible to implement in partnership between oral health promoters and schools. A detailed resource pack was produced for the programme, and the Oral Health Promoters who delivered the programme provided feedback on the pack as part of the trial.

Acknowledging the positive outcomes of the report at its launch, Deirdre Sadlier, Executive Director, Dental Health Foundation, Ireland noted:

"The findings of this research present a major advance in monitoring the effectiveness of oral health promotion. The benefits of partnership working on the island of Ireland has reaped great rewards by capturing and channelling our energies and resources to great effect for the benefit of children in greatest need of support"

A partnership approach, put in place by the leadership of the Dental Health Foundation, Ireland, was used to the develop and test the programme in conjunction with the Oral Health Services Research Centre, University College Cork; Dental Public Health and Behavioural Sciences, Queen's University Belfast; Population Health Directorate, HSE; Dental Services, HSE Dublin North East and the Dental Services of the Eastern Health and Social Services Board, Northern Ireland.

A formal introduction of the programme will now be recommended in both jurisdictions.

Click here to read and/or download a copy of the 'Winning Smiles' Report (file size 3.03MB)