People Power

News Published: 
7 January 2019

FGDP(UK) Dean, Ian Mills, reflects on 2018 and discusses the impact of people-led campaigns as a force for good in dentistry

Another year has disappeared 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 last year in particular saw the influence of people-power in changing society and the attitudes of others. This was clearly 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.

Oral health policy was also 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 from HPV Action, of which the Faculty is a proud member. 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 in both sexes, and I know many practices joined the Mouth Cancer Action Month activities to raise awareness of oropharyngeal cancer.

It was clearly very encouraging to see the health departments in England, Scotland and Wales commit to extending the NHS vaccination programme to include boys.

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 the current cohort of 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 from the tax 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, and there is no doubt that our profession will continue to campaign on these issues this year and in the years to come.

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