It’s time to overhaul oral health education

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© Viktoriia Hnatiuk

Tess Player, VP, Global Head of Expert and Influence Marketing, GSK Consumer Healthcare, explains how poor public understanding of oral health is symptomatic of the need for better everyday health education

As our healthcare services are stretched to their limits, knowing how to take care of your own health at home has never been more important. Good health literacy minimizes unnecessary trips to the GP and helps create sustainable communities whose habits prevent preventable conditions before they develop.

The good news is that we won’t need to climb mountains to make tangible improvements in our health every day. In fact, one of the easiest ways for people to build resilience in their bodies is to do the same thing they’ve always done – just doing it a little more in depth.

Take toothbrushing: Only about 80% manage to do it regularly twice a day (often using any toothpaste offered at the supermarket that week), but a recent study by GSK Consumer Healthcare (GSK CH) has revealed that very few of us really understand its health benefits or know when to use specialty products and seek the advice of a dentist.

Only 47% of women know that good oral health can promote a healthier pregnancy

Looking further into the GSK CH study, conducted in partnership with Ipsos, the general understanding of the risks associated with poor oral care during pregnancy was also concerning. Academics have shown that during pregnancy, higher hormone levels can change the way the body responds to plaque buildup, causing the gums to swell. This is an early sign of periodontitis, which increases the risk of premature labor. In our study, only 47% of women knew that good oral health could promote a healthier pregnancy, with a lower risk of complications.

The best way to decrease these preventable risks is to maintain good oral health habits and seek advice from healthcare professionals. Unsurprisingly, 70% of those surveyed who see the dentist more frequently compared to the pre-Covid era were aware of the benefits of good oral health to support a healthy pregnancy. However, without the healthcare industry taking action to address these knowledge gaps, preventable problems will persist.

Managing a Sweet Tooth – The Links Between Oral Health, Diabetes and Heart Disease

Poor oral health can also cause inflammation and infection of the gums, making it difficult for the body to control blood sugar levels and respond appropriately to insulin. This is dangerous for people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes, whose high levels of glucose in saliva already put them at an increased risk of tooth decay – and therefore can create a vicious cycle of health problems. Again, scientific studies have reported widely on this subject, but only 44% of respondents over the age of 50, a high-risk group that is more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, were aware of the link.

In addition, bacteria that attack the gums can spread into the bloodstream and cause inflammation elsewhere, increasing your chances of developing heart disease. Again, only 56% of respondents knew that good oral health habits can reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

There is an appetite for better personal care – so let’s embrace it

If there is one positive side to the pandemic, it is that people are determined to take better care of their health every day. In another study by GSK CH and Ipsos, 65% of Europeans were now more likely to consider their health in day-to-day decision-making, with the vast majority acknowledging the importance of relieving pressure on an already overburdened healthcare system.

So how can we ensure that better oral health education – and tips for improving other daily health habits – is available to those who want and need it?

In short, thanks to the collaboration between private, public and governmental institutions around the world. For example, community pharmacies and dentists can use their face-to-face time with patients to stress the importance of specialty toothpastes and twice-daily brushing. Healthcare companies can use their customer insights, packaging and platforms to create educational campaigns across a range of consumer channels, including collaboration with healthcare experts. And governments can increase funding for preventive health care – currently just 3% in European authorities compared to 80% in reactive care – to ensure that professionals and training centers have the resources they need to improve. health literacy wherever they can.

So the next time you brush your teeth, think about the long-term benefits of those simple two minutes twice a day and make them count. It may be a small act, but it can have big benefits for your body, your community, and even frontline health workers under pressure to keep our society safe and well-being.

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