Nurses: driving oral health promotion 

18 Jul 2023
Pat Hughes

Nurses: driving oral health promotion 

Nurses – a powerhouse for oral health promotion

This July 6,000 nurses from 130 countries gathered in Montreal for the International Council of Nurses (ICN) Congress. As part of this C3 partnered with Colgate to focus their attention on the most prevalent non-communicable (NCD) in the world – oral disease.   

The combined number of cases of oral disease globally is about one billion higher than all cases of the five main NCDs (heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and chronic lung disease) combined. Moreover, oral disease shares the common risk factors (such as diet and tobacco use) of these other NCDs. Importantly, NCDs are socially patterned, with those in disadvantaged communities more impacted.  

A gathering of nurse leaders

In an invitation only meeting at the gathering in Montreal, senior nurse leaders from the US and Canada shared diverse ideas around engaging nurses in oral health promotion. Topics included prioritising oral health in the political and policy arena; integrating oral health as an integral component of care – not something new or added on; nurses’ potential contribution across all settings; building on existing good practice in education and beyond; and partnering with relevant organisations. Additionally, further work may focus on integrating oral health into maternal and child health programmes.  

Oral disease internationally

Nearly 100 nurses joined a symposium led by Cynthia Pine, Professor of Dental Public Health.  Cynthia provided an overview of oral disease from an international perspective. Subsequently, she discussed commonalities between oral disease and other NCDs, global cases and prevalence, and the importance of general health promotion activities. She also acknowledged that nurses could make an enormous difference to the oral health of people of all ages worldwide.  And that the need to maintain basic oral hygiene, i.e., brushing twice daily with fluoride toothpaste and plaque removal, cannot always be met by people due to social, economic and environmental factors and inequalities.    

In Montreal, hundreds of nurses took part in a survey designed to assess their understanding of and involvement in oral health, complementing work previously carried out by the Commonwealth Nurses and Midwives federation (CNMF) in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa. Those that completed the survey received oral hygiene products encouraging good oral health habits in nurses themselves as well as in their communities.  

Making a difference

Nurses and midwives are ideally positioned to have a significant and lasting impact as they care for and promote the health and wellbeing of patients, families and communities across the life-course.  Each life stage brings opportunities for promotion and prevention from pregnancy through to old age.  Traditionally, nurses’ involvement in oral health has often been limited to carrying out mouth care routines to enhance patient comfort.  

The opportunities to improve oral health globally and prevent oral disease are enormous.  And are another example of the potential of nurses to have a measurable and positive impact on the health of the world.  C3’s important work on helping nurses to promote oral health continues, in partnership with Colgate and CNMF. Stay tuned.  

Learn about C3’s other oral health work by visiting the Oral health: a C3 priority webpage.