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The research project, which was based on the World Health Organization’s Health-Promoting Schools concept, focused on increasing awareness of the importance of oral health in order to foster a healthy school environment and encourage regular dental care habits in young children, including the use of effective fluoridated toothpaste. Over 24 months, the researchers compared the effects of closely supervised toothbrushing with a toothpaste containing 1,450 ppm fluoride and 1.5% arginine to customary oral hygiene practices in the control group. The study was conducted in the Songkhla province in Thailand and involved 15 schools and 3,706 preschool students, of whom 1,940 were in the intervention group and 1,766 in the control group.
During the course of the study, dental plaque scores significantly improved among the children in the intervention group. According to the researchers, the project achieved a caries reduction of up to 34 per cent for all schools included in the study and a reduction in new carious lesions of up to 41 per cent for the most compliant schools. This points to the positive effect of the use of fluoridated toothpaste administered by schoolteachers via an enhanced school oral health programme.
“This project emphasises the necessity of engaging the school as well as family and schoolteachers,” said lead researcher Prof. Poul Erik Petersen, from the Department for Global Oral Health and Community Dentistry at the university’s School of Dentistry. “Globally, very few school health programmes are evaluated scientifically. This research project has provided sound information and will thus contribute to the promotion of preventive measures in school oral health programmes,” Petersen concluded.
According to Petersen, the experience gained from the study could offer new insight into the global fight against poor oral health in children. Furthermore, he expressed the hope that the research results would assist ministries of health, public health administrators and oral health planners in low- and middle-income countries in Asia in developing evidence-based school health programmes.
In Asia, the number of children suffering pain and discomfort resulting from poor oral health, in addition to missing school lessons, is increasing. High levels of tooth decay in developing countries such as Thailand are primarily related to poor living conditions, the high intake of sugars, poor oral hygiene practices, low exposure to fluoride for disease prevention, as well as limited availability of and accessibility to preventive dental health services.
According to figures of the FDI World Dental Federation, between 60 and 90 per cent of schoolchildren worldwide have caries but the majority of dental decay remains untreated due to inappropriate, unaffordable or unavailable oral health care services.
The study, titled “School-based intervention for improving the oral health of children in southern Thailand”, was published in the March issue of the Community Dental Health journal.