People power

Ian Mills reflects on 2018 and discusses the impact of people-led campaigns as a force for good in dentistry

It is hard to believe we are approaching the end of 2018, as another year disappears in the blink of an eye. I am uncertain whether it is because ‘time flies when you are having fun’ or ‘the years pass more quickly as you get older’. Despite appearances to the contrary, I am sure it must be the former!

It strikes me that this year in particular has seen the influence of people-power in changing society and the attitudes of others. This has clearly been evident in many high-profile campaigns, including the social media #metoo campaign, the gender pay gap, Grenfell Tower and the possibility of a ‘people’s vote’ on Brexit.

Policy change in dentistry has also been affected, and I am delighted that many organisations leant their considerable political weight to good effect.

Vaccines for all

In July, we saw a U-turn on the government’s recommendations for human papillomavirus (HPV)vaccination following the Jabs for the Boys campaign, as part of HPV Action. There has been a significant increase in oropharyngeal cancer in recent years, and HPV is recognised as an important aetiological risk factor.

HPV vaccination is an effective method of reducing cancer rates, including oropharyngeal cancer, in both sexes. Therefore, it is encouraging to see the NHS vaccination programme now being extended to include boys in England, Scotland and Wales.

I know many practices have joined the Mouth Cancer Action Month activities, in order to raise awareness of oropharyngeal cancer.

However, there is still more to be done as we work towards the implementation of a similar programme in Northern Ireland and lobby for a catch-up programme to ensure that current 14- to 18-year-olds are not overlooked.

The sugar tax

The ‘sugar tax’ on soft drinks came into effect on 6 April 2018, following years of campaigning around the impact of sugar on health.

There has been considerable success in relation to restrictions on advertising to children, and an ongoing campaign highlighting the inappropriate marketing methods of the large food and drink companies.

The broader focus on links between oral health and general health, and the fact that obesity is a key risk factor for a number of non-communicable diseases, have all helped support this development.

Our work is not over yet, but it is great to see the dental profession working with colleagues across healthcare to promote the importance of healthy eating and a reduction in sugar intake.

We believe this could be a game-changer and it is important that we keep up the pressure to ensure the money raised is spent on oral health promotion.

Improving our futures

Social media and the digital world allow us to directly comment on and influence key issues. There is an opportunity to harness the positive power of this medium to continue to build momentum for things that matter.

HPV vaccination and sugar reduction will continue to need our support in the coming months and years, and there is no doubt that our profession will continue to campaign on these issues in 2019.

But what other key issues might we face? With recent media coverage of patients queuing to access NHS dental care, perhaps the public will influence the pace and direction of contract reform in 2019 – now there’s a thought!


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