Monday 17 June 2019

A sugar intervention that actually looks promising

Usually I'm pointing to daft stuff on the sugar file. 

But my jaw dropped when I read this one. An intervention that sounded sensible, that's been piloted, that looks effective, and is quite possibly cost-effective too.

Here's RNZ:
But dental decay in even the most deprived communities could be prevented by the simple method of brushing teeth once a day at school, and a Northland study had proved it, and the government should take heed, Dr Stallworthy said.

In 2015, DHB dentist Ellen Clark set up a highly controlled tooth-brushing trial in Northland schools for her Master's thesis in Public Health, through the University of Otago.

A teacher aide was paid to supervise tooth-brushing sessions, once a day for 170 children at Kaitaia Intermediate School.

Several other schools were selected as controls, all of them in areas of high deprivation, where children were given a toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste, but had no supervised brushing sessions at school.

More than two-thirds of the children were Māori.

Ms Clark said she had hoped to improve the children's oral health - but the results were far better than she dared to hope.

"The children who were brushing (at school) had a mean number of 11.7 tooth surfaces that improved - that is, they remineralised or (the decay) reversed. In comparison, the kids who were not brushing had 8.6 tooth surfaces that deteriorated over the year which was quite profound, I wasn't expecting that - I thought you'd have to follow these kids over several years before you saw such significant results."

Tooth-brushing programmes in schools in Denmark and the UK had been showing similar results, Ms Clark said.

One of the better known ones, the Scottish Child Smile project had saved the government an estimated $NZ9.1 million in just two years.

The low-tech intervention could do the same for New Zealand, at a relatively low cost, Ms Clark said.

Supervision was critical, but the cost of a teacher aide, for an hour a day per school, was tiny compared to the potential savings in teeth and dollars.

No equipment was needed apart from brushes and toothpaste - the children in the Kaitaia study spat into paper towels, and rinsed their brushes at the water fountain.

The beauty of the study was that it removed the usual inequalities in oral health, caused by poverty, and the results had prompted interest from overseas, and from other DHB's around New Zealand, Ms Clark said.

She was now working on a detailed cost-benefit analysis, in the hope the government might consider rolling the programme out through Northland.

And though the study is over, Kaitaia Intermediate has kept up the toothbrushing - and continued to report good results, Ms Clark said.
And here's the Masters Thesis.

It's a shame that it seems needed, but here we are.

In related news, a friend emails me a public health anecdote from the mid-2000s. According to the anecdote, an academic did some joint research with MoH into rheumatic fever and found that shared toothbrushes were part of the problem, as were shared beds - the recommendation then was to hand toothbrushes out at GP offices to prevent that transmission vector. Toothbrushes are cheap.

According to the anecdote, MoH buried that part of the research in case it reflected badly on ethnic groups more likely to share toothbrushes. The collaborator never worked with MoH again due to frustration over the barring of the findings' being used.

If anyone knows more about this one, drop me a line.

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