Dental health campaign



The islandwide dental health campaign was launched in February 1969 as part of the Ministry of Health’s efforts to inculcate good dental hygiene habits from young. Led by the Ministry of Health in conjunction with the Ministry of Education, the programme comprised compulsory toothbrushing as part of the school curriculum, lessons on proper toothbrushing techniques and dental care as well as a dental health week.1

Background
In the 1960s, dental hygiene standards were poor as evidenced in the teeth of national service enlistees. It was reported that half of the population did not know how to brush their teeth properly and half of all schoolchildren did not own toothbrushes. For those who did own toothbrushes, they were not brushing regularly or correctly.2

To instil good dental hygiene habits among the population, then President Yusof Ishak announced during his opening address to Parliament on 6 May 1968 that dental health services would be improved and expanded with greater emphasis placed on dental health education, beginning with schools. Dental care services would also be expanded and dental clinics established for schoolchildren.3

By April 1969, the Ministry of Health (MOH) had set up 50 dental clinics, 44 of them located in primary schools.4 These clinics ensured that students received regular dental check-ups and were taught how to take proper care of their teeth.5 The deployment of school dental nurses at the school dental service helped to alleviate the manpower shortage.6 By May the following year, the number of dental clinics for schoolchildren had risen to 60.7

Compulsory toothbrushing and dental education
Following a successful pilot scheme involving 10 primary schools in 1968, compulsory toothbrushing was implemented in all primary schools in February 1969.8 The toothbrushing exercise aimed to educate the children on the importance of dental health as well as inculcate in them the good habit of daily brushing using the correct technique.9 The toothbrushing drills, which involved all primary one to three students, were incorporated into the school curriculum and took place during recess or at a convenient time.10

As part of the toothbrushing exercise, each child was supplied with a toothbrush and plastic mug at a fee of 25 cents per set.11 To prepare teachers to instruct students on the proper toothbrushing techniques and to supervise the toothbrushing drills correctly, some 2,680 teachers received training from the Dental Health Education Unit, established in 1968 by MOH. The unit was tasked with drawing up a curriculum in dental health education for primary schools in Singapore as well as organising health education activities such as exhibitions, talks and contests.12 By the end of 1969, a total of 367,735 children from 439 primary schools had participated in the toothbrushing drills, with an estimated 1.5 million toothbrushes sold by 1970.13 Singapore became the first country in the region at the time to carry out instruction in toothbrushing on such a massive scale.14

In 1970, a contest for teachers supervising the toothbrushing drills was organised, with 289 teachers from 197 schools taking part. The participants were judged on their ability to organise and manage the class during the toothbrushing drill; the children’s toothbrushing technique; the cleanliness and condition of the children’s toothbrushes and mugs as well as the children’s oral hygiene after toothbrushing.15

Dental Health Week

The Dental Health Education Unit launched the inaugural Dental Health Week in April 1969 to promote dental hygiene. Held from 2 to 6 April, the activities organised included the first Singapore Dental Congress attended by dentists from various parts of the world, a dental health exhibition at the Victoria Memorial Hall (now known as the Victoria Concert Hall), and the “Miss Dental Health” and “Mr Dental Health” contests targeted at young people with healthy teeth.16 The two winners of the contests each received a S$500 cash prize, a trophy, an electric toothbrush and tubes of toothpaste.17

Success of the campaign
The success of the inaugural Dental Health Week in 1969 spurred MOH to organise the same event that took place from 4 to 10 May the following year. The programme line-up included a dental health exhibition comprising free dental examinations, screening of dental health films, a dental health quiz and sale of dental products. Other activities organised were the “Mr and Miss Dental Health” competition targeted at those between 16 and 20 years of age, and a dental health poster competition for children.18


The compulsory toothbrushing campaign introduced in schools in 1969 was also cited by then Minister for Health Chua Sian Chin in 1971 as one of three factors – the other two being the fluoridation of Singapore’s water supply and an effective school dental service – that played a part in helping to reduce the incidents of tooth decay in children aged seven to nine.19

Following the success of compulsory toothbrushing in primary schools, MOH introduced dental education and toothbrushing in kindergartens in 1972.20 Kindergarten teachers were trained in the correct way of brushing teeth and in basic dental hygiene.21

Over the following years, MOH continued to step up dental health education campaign through exhibitions, talks and film shows to promote dental health consciousness among the public.22 Consequently, the standard of oral health among school children improved as a result of health education efforts in schools, the work done by the school dental clinics and the fluoridation of water supply.23 In 1988, the health ministry announced that it would focus on adults and extend dental health education to other groups such as workers.24


More programmes were organised to raise public awareness on dental and oral diseases. In 2000, the Singapore Dental Association (SDA) partnered the government to provide holistic and quality dental care to the community.25 The Health Promotion Board (HPB) was set up on 1 April 2001 to promote and introduce health programmes for students in schools, adults at the workplace and the elderly in the community. With the collaboration between the new statutory board and the Ministry of Education, the government announced the plan to invest S$16.6 million for new dental clinics in 53 secondary schools, purchase 20 mobile dental clinics and recruit dental therapists as an extension of the free onsite dental services programme for students. In addition, the Singapore Dental Health Foundation organised the first ever Smile Contest for senior citizens which took place on 24 November 2001 to promote dental hygiene.26

Oral Health Month
Oral Health Month was first introduced in 2004. The campaign organised by the SDA and toothpaste manufacturer Colgate-Palmolive aimed to encourage people to have dental checkups at least once a year.27 The 12th consecutive Oral Health Month on the theme “Celebrating 50 Years of Smiles” was held in August 2015. Throughout the month, free dental checkups were available at 320 participating clinics nationwide.28


Oral Health Month in 2017 took place in March with free dental checkups provided at participating malls and dental clinics throughout the month.29 As an initiative under the NurtureSG Plan, the HPB announced that it would offer free oral health screening for preschoolers aged 3 to 4 years to at least 800 childcare centres by 2019 and 1,100 childcare centres by 2020.30



Authors

Joshua Chia Yeong Jia & Tan Hooi Geng



References
1. A ‘how to brush teeth’ drive in schools soon. (1968, December 19). The Straits Times, p. 13; Expert tells why eskimos have perfect teeth. (1970, May 26). The Straits Times, p. 5; Dental education soon for infant schools. (1971, May 17). New Nation, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Ministry of Culture. (1968, December 17). Dental health campaign [Press release]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline

2. A ‘how to brush teeth’ drive in schools soon. (1968, December 19). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG
3. Singapore. Parliament. Parliamentary debates: Official report. (1968, May 6). Addenda: Ministry of Health (Vol. 1). Singapore: [s.n.], col. 31. (Call no.: RSING 328.5957 SIN)
4. Ministry of Culture. (1969, April 1). Speech of Mr. Chua Sian Chin, minister for health at the opening of the Dental Health Exhibition at the Victoria Memorial Hall on Tuesday, 1st April, 1969, at 1700 hours. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline
5. 7 more dental clinics for S’pore primary schools. (1969, February 15). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Ministry of Culture. (1969, April 1). Speech of Mr. Chua Sian Chin, minister for health at the opening of the Dental Health Exhibition at the Victoria Memorial Hall on Tuesday, 1st April, 1969, at 1700 hours. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline
7. Ministry of Culture. (1970, May 4). Speech of Mr. Chor Yeok Eng, parliamentary secretary of the Ministry Of Health, at the opening of the Dental Health Exhibition at the Victoria Memorial Hall on Monday, 4th May 1970 at 10 a.m. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline
8. Ministry of Culture. (1968). Singapore 1968 [Microfilm no.: NL 6554]. Singapore: [s.n.], p. 324; Ministry of Culture. (1969). Singapore 1969 [Microfilm no.: NL 11907]. Singapore: [s.n.], p. 220.
9. Improving health with studies and treatment. (1970, May 3).The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Ministry of Culture. (1968, December 17). Dental health campaign [Press release]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline; Dental education soon for infant schools. (1971, May 17). New Nation, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11.A ‘how to brush teeth’ drive in schools soon. (1968, December 19). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Ministry of Culture. (1968, December 17). Dental Health Campaign [Press release]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline
12. Ministry of Culture. (1970, July 25). Speech of Mr Chua Sian Chin, minister for health at the presentation of prizes for the teachers’ contest in tooth brushing drill in primary school at the school of Nursing, Outram Road General Hospital on Saturday, 25 July 1970 at 1000 hours; Ministry of Culture. (1969, April 1). Speech of Mr Chua Sian Chin, minister for health at the opening of the Dental Health Exhibition at the Victoria Memorial Hall on Tuesday, 1st April, 1969, at 1700 hours. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline
13. Tooth decay reduced in students. (1971, July 12). New Nation, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Ministry of Culture. (1970, May 4). Speech of Mr. Chor Yeok Eng, parliamentary secretary of the Ministry Of Health, at the opening of the Dental Health Exhibition at the Victoria Memorial Hall on Monday, 4th May 1970 at 10 a.m. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline
14. A ‘how to brush teeth’ drive in schools soon. (1968, December 19). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Improving health with studies and treatment. (1970, May 3). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Ministry of Culture. (1970, July 25). Speech of Mr Chua Sian Chin, minister for health at the presentation of prizes for the teachers’ contest in tooth brushing drill in primary school at the school of Nursing, Outram Road General Hospital on Saturday, 25 July 1970 at 1000 hours. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline
16. World dentists for S’pore congress. (1969, February 21). The Straits Times, p. 4; Health for progress. (1969, April 6). The Straits Times, p. 8; Miss Dental Health’s winning smile. (1969, April 8). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Miss Dental Health's winning smile. (1969, April 8). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Teo, P. (1970, May 3). Plans to promote high standard of dental hygiene. The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Tooth decay reduced in students. (1971, July 12). New Nation, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. The correct strokes… (1972, February 21). New Nation, p. 2, Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Dental education soon for infant schools. (1971, May 17). New Nation, p. 3; Toddlers to learn dental hygiene soon. (1971, May 18). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Lim, K. K. (1988, November 13). Bad teeth ‘no longer a serious problem’. The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. 
23. Lim, K. K. (1988, November 13). Bad teeth ‘no longer a serious problem’. The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.  
24. Focus now on adults. (1988, November 13). The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Dental health here very good. (2000, April 14). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. McCoy P. (2001, March 11). $16.6m for school dental scheme. The Straits Times, p. 26; Brush…floss…brush…then this bright smile. (2001, November 24). The New Paper, p. 10; Salma Khalik (2001, February 23). New stat board to promote health. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Tan, H. L. (2004, October 19). Dental association, Colgate offer free dental check-ups. Today, p. 4; You can get your teeth checked for free. (2004, October 19). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Oral Health Month 2015 celebrates 50 years of smiles. (2015, September–October). Dental Asia, 16. Retrieved 2018, January 15 from Dental Asia website:  http://www.dentalasia.net/ebook/DA_SepOct2015/files/assets/basic-html/index.html#1
29. Minsitry of Health. (2018). Oral health month. Retrieved 2018, January 15 from Health Hub website: https://www.healthhub.sg/events/7852/oral-health-month
30. Ministry of Health. (2017, July 3). Dental health among pre-primary children. Retrieved 2017, August 1 from Ministry of Health website: https://www.moh.gov.sg/content/moh_web/home/pressRoom/Parliamentary_QA/2017/dental-health-among-pre-primary-children-.html



The information in this article is valid as at 2017 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources.  It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject.  Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Public health
Health and medicine>>Healthy living>>Personal cleanliness
Teeth--Care and hygiene--Singapore
Politics and Government>>Health
Dental health education--Singapore