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Brighter Smiles ahead as Seafarers Hospital Society launches oral health initiative for schoolchildren in Newlyn

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Respected maritime health and welfare charity the Seafarers Hospital Society (SHS) was in Newlyn School yesterday to launch its latest initiative for fishing families. For the next 5 years SHS is funding oral health education for children aged 5 – 9 in Newlyn School, at the heart of the Cornish fishing community.

Lysanne Wilson, Seafarers Hospital Society Interim CEO and Health Development Manager, explained:

“We know from our work with fishermen that poor dental health is a real problem in the fishing community. A combination of lack of NHS provision and problems with making and keeping appointments when you work at sea have led to a crisis in dental health for fishing families. Through our work on the SeaFit programme, Smiles at Sea and other initiatives, we are already providing free dental checks and emergency treatment for fishermen and their families at the harbourside in an effort to address the immediate problem. Now we are funding Brighter Smiles in a 5-year programme to teach children how to look after their teeth and prevent the problem occurring in the first place.”

Working with community dental provider Smile Together who deliver Brighter Smiles, Cornwall’s oral health programme, the Society will be funding dedicated support in Newlyn School, including:

  • Daily tooth-brushing clubs for nursery and reception classes
  • Free fluoride varnishing for reception and year 1 to protect against tooth decay
  • Education and advice for all children, staff and parents/carers to establish good eating habits and limit sugary snacks and drinks
  • Home education packs for every child to help establish good practice at home
  • A dedicated dental nurse to work with teachers and classroom staff

Children and staff were given a taste of the Brighter Smiles programme with a mini oral health education session delivered by Jo Trevelyan, Lead Oral Health Nurse from Smile Together. Speaking after the event Jo said:

“We are thrilled to be delivering our oral health programme in Newlyn School thanks to this generous and long term financial commitment from Seafarers Hospital Society. The pupils responded really well to the session and asked some great questions. We met many of them in June when we brought our Smiles at Sea mobile dental unit to the school and they are really enthusiastic to learn more about looking after their teeth. Over this 5-year period we will expect to see a very significant reduction in tooth decay an improvement in overall oral health and consequently fewer youngsters being admitted to hospital for teeth extraction under general anaesthetic.”

Questions from the pupils ranged from the serious:
“Why are our teeth at the front a different shape to the ones at the back?”
“What happens if you snap a baby tooth?”
“What happens if an adult tooth grows behind a baby tooth?”
“How long does it take to do a filling or take a tooth out?”

To the humorous:
“Can you eat without any teeth?”
“If a child had to have fake teeth, would they be hollow so their adult teeth could grow inside?”

Speaking on behalf of Newlyn School, Headteacher Isabel Stephens said: “We are extremely grateful to the Seafarers Hospital Society for funding this important initiative in our school. Tooth decay is a real problem for many of our children. It impacts directly on attendance and learning, especially when children have to go into hospital for tooth extractions. Young children who have had extractions often find it difficult to pronounce sounds and this affects their ability to blend sounds and to read. The shortage of NHS dentists has meant that some of our children have rarely seen a dentist. By working with Brighter Smiles, we are hoping that there will be a significant reduction in tooth decay and that our children will be happier and healthier.”

The Seafarers Hospital Society has a long history of providing health and welfare support to seafarers and their families including the provision of free dental treatment. But this is the first time that the Society has focused on the prevention of dental ill-health and targeted children.

Lysanne Wilson added:

“This is a significant first for the Society and we’re really excited about it. If it’s successful we would hope to expand into other areas where fishing communities are struggling to access dental care. We know there’s a serious problem out there and we want to do what we can to help address it.”