Good results for the wrong reasons

I can think of two good things resulting from government intervention that relate to dental health, but sadly nothing to do with patient attendance.

The new law about smoking has obvious advantages, and I was reminded of a similar intervention regarding child obesity which had the desired effect of reducing the sugary snacks sold in school tuck shops, something for which I had been fighting without success years ago.

In the 1980s, dietary awareness was not as in vogue as it is today, but thanks to the government I believe tuck shops are a thing of the past. Although there was more dental heath education than now, people were not ready to listen to the dental profession on diet, or on smoking.

As hygienists, we are urged and reminded, in virtually every journal we pick up and at each meeting we attend, of the rise in oral cancer and the need to record our patients smoking status. We are told of the increased risk of periodontal disease in smokers and the reduction in healing after surgery, how we must assist our patients and encourage them to quit at every opportunity because we have a greater chance to reach them than a GP they seldom see.

And most of us do this; we ask the smoking question on our medical questionnaire, we note down the amount smoked and when we inform them of the damage their habit causes to their periodontal health.

Sometimes, when we’re feeling assertive and strong, we suggest they give up or visit a practice nurse or the smoking cessation sessions run by their GP, and we ask them periodically how they are getting on, reminding them that it is a ‘process’ and not to lose heart.

The nagging factor

It is all such hard work and I often feel it’s an extra thing to have to nag about. Surely it’s enough to have someone going on about what you have to do to keep the plaque at bay, brushing and using fiddly little bottle brushes, without having them harp on about giving up smoking.

But now, thanks to the increased media coverage about the new ban on smoking in public places, several of my patients have said they are giving up because they have to set a good example to their workforce or because they will be unable to smoke at work. So the government has actually done the dental profession a favour, but don’t tell them this!

The majority of smokers want to quit and this gives them a kick-start, plus all the associated packages to help them. We can look forward to healthier mouths and fewer tedious hours spent removing nicotine staining. I can be really encouraging about their efforts but I won’t have to be the tyrant in the scenario.

One last thing; we hear about the high risk of lung cancer and heart disease but very little outside the profession about the increased risks of oral or mouth cancer. Why is this?

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