Background: Improving oral health and reducing tooth decay is a key area for action, both in the United Kingdom (UK) and overseas. The World Health Organization (WHO) has highlighted the unique advantage schools have in promoting oral health.
Aim: We summarise current oral health promotion strategies in the United Kingdom and estimate the spread of their use as well as their impact on oral health and influence on the oral health-related knowledge and behaviour in a patient population.
Methods: A structured overview of published papers, government publications, official government websites and policy reports. A cross-sectional study of patients referred for a tooth extraction in one dental surgery in south-east London. Statistical methods consisted of logistic and ordinal regressions to model the likelihood of exposure to oral health promotion and of obtaining higher levels of knowledge of oral health issues, respectively. Linear regression was used to model the level of oral health and knowledge of oral health issues.
Results: We found three main promotion programmes, namely, National Healthy Schools (NHS), Sure Start and Brushing for life plus a small number of local initiatives. Sure Start targets disadvantaged areas, but is limited. In our observational study, 34% of the patients reported exposure to a settings-based oral health education programme: Sure Start (5%), NHS (7%) and other (22%). This exposure was not influenced by age or gender, but an association with education was detected. Although oral health promotion was not found to influence the actual knowledge of oral health issues, it was found to influence some oral health-related attitudes and perceptions.
Conclusions: Participation in an oral health promotion programme was found to be significantly associated with the patients’ education, their belief that they can prevent oral disease and the subjective perception of their own oral health. The WHO principles need to be embedded across all schools to achieve a true national oral health promotion programme for the United Kingdom. The National Healthy Schools programme provides the perfect platform.