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Smile bright: exploring dental health research

Banner image of older man smiling

This month (13 May - 13 June) is National Smile Month, a charity campaign that promotes the benefits of having good oral health and a healthy smile. The theme for the 2024 campaign ‘Love Your Smile’ encourages people to take better care of their teeth and gums while spreading joy through smiling. 

Smiling not only brightens someone’s day but it can reduce stress, boost the immune system, and even lower blood pressure. Plus, a smile is contagious, spreading happiness wherever it goes. 

The role of dental health research

Dental health research plays a crucial role in advancing our understanding of oral health and developing innovative strategies to prevent and treat dental conditions, ultimately improving the quality of life for everyone.

Here we highlight two dental health research projects that have been funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Clinical Research Network (CRN) Wessex small grant scheme.

Study aims to help older people look after their teeth

This project, led by Solent NHS Trust’s Academy of Research and Improvement partnered with Communicare, a charity in Southampton.

Together they set out to identify the barriers preventing some older people from looking after their teeth. They also researched what would help older people better manage their care at home. 

The study recognised that people who are experiencing poor oral health could be in pain and discomfort and experience problems with their mouth and jaw. They might also have difficulties eating and drinking which could lead to nutritional deficiencies which could have an impact on their wider health. 

Jennifer Malpass: Research Dental Nurse, Solent NHS Trust comments about the study: “We’re taking our research out of the dental surgery and bringing it to the communities. It’s because we understand that people are experts in what their needs are and experts in what we should be addressing, so we’re starting with the research from the ground up, working with people in their community at the very beginning.”

Creating dementia friendly dental environments

Led by Carolina Machuca Vargas, Associate Head (Research & Innovation) - Senior Lecturer in Dental Public Health, University of Portsmouth Dental Academy, the study aims to investigate how to create dementia-friendly environments, specifically at the University of Portsmouth Dental Academy (UPDA). 

Evidence shows that healthcare environments can have a significant impact on patients with cognitive problems, leading to additional distress and confusion. Dental healthcare services should aim to create a calm and secure environment and improvements can be made to the environment of the practice to increase the accessibility to older people including those living with dementia. 

Findings from this study are informing the development of a local guide for the management of people with dementia that could be implemented in other dental settings such as dental practices and community health services.

Carolina comments about the study: “Creating dementia-friendly environments in dental practices involves more than just making physical adjustments. It's about fostering a culture of empathy and understanding where every staff member is skilled at recognising and responding to the unique needs of individuals with dementia. From making small changes to the physical layout to using specialised communication techniques, every step is aimed at making patients feel comfortable and secure.”

In her role as Oral and Dental Speciality Lead for CRN Wessex, Carolina continues: “Ultimately, our goal is to create spaces where individuals with dementia feel respected, supported, and valued throughout their dental care journey. Research plays a crucial role in this journey, guiding us towards innovative solutions and ensuring that every aspect of our practices embodies inclusivity and support.”

More information and getting involved