On October 13 2015, the Platform for Better Oral Health in Europe hosted its annual policy roundtable at the Renaissance Hotel in Brussels. At the event, the Platform presented the results of its best practices collection, which outlines the scale of the oral health problem in Europe. The collection contains 28 examples of oral health prevention and promotion programmes from across Europe which the Platform sees as possible solutions for reducing the burden of oral disease, and eliminating oral health inequalities both within and between Member States.
The event was hosted by MEPs Karin Kadenbach (S&D, Austria) and Andrey Kovatchev (EPP, Bulgaria).
MEP Karin Kadenbach opened the Second Oral Health Summit by outlining the good progress made by the Platform for Better Oral Health in Europe in the past years. Ms Kadenbach noted that she was pleased to see concrete and evaluated solutions to the issue of oral health being brought forward, and “to see that work is underway in some Member States to address the burden of oral diseases, both from an economic and social perspectives.” She expressed her enthusiasm about the fact that 20 of the 28 examples of best practice programmes highlighted by the Platform deal with health education and health literacy.
The second aspect of the collection which stands for Ms Kadenbach are the programmes (13 in total) which seek to reduce healthcare inequalities. The issue of inequalities in access to care, or poor access to care overall, has been another focus area of her work in recent times: “Better health literacy increases access to health and has a positive impact on health outcomes and health resource use.”
Finally, in addition to ongoing awareness raising and calling for preventive policies, MEP Kadenbach also strongly supports the mainstreaming of oral health in all European and national policies.
Presentation by Dr Paula Vassallo, Chair of the Platform for Better Oral Health in Europe
Dr Paula Vassallo elaborated on the history and raisons d’être of the Platform for Better Oral Health in Europe. The facts show that oral diseases such as dental caries or periodontal diseases remain a major public health burden in Europe. They also show that access to oral healthcare services remains a major problem among vulnerable and low income groups. Paula continued by stating that oral diseases do not only have a social impact, but also have an economic one.
She pointed out that the then EU 27 spent an estimated 73 billion EUR on oral health in 2012 and will spend around 93 billion EUR in 2020. Moreover, expenditure on treatment of oral conditions often exceeds that of cancer, heart disease, stroke and dementia. However, there is a lack of data and it is difficult to estimate the expenditure on the provision of oral healthcare and to quantify out-of-pocket and indirect costs such as productivity losses. This lack of data leads to a lack of political will and emphasis on prevention policies for oral diseases, which contributes to the increase of oral health inequalities, the lack of integration of oral health into national or community health programmes and the lack of research in oral health promotion. This is even more unfortunate keeping in mind that all oral diseases are preventable.
Dr Vassallo then moved on to discuss the solutions to the current problem and the sharing of best practices. The best practices collected by the Platform include policy changes, educating professionals, health promotion, reducing inequalities, the provision of dental services and the inclusion of oral health in general health programmes.
Finally, Dr Vassallo elaborated on what the EU can do. She called for the setting up of a Joint Action on Oral Health, as well as for oral health action plans funded through the Public Health Programme. The Platform also aims to create an EU framework for common risk factor management and stresses that economic policy and initiatives on the sustainability of healthcare systems should focus on prevention.
Presentation by Dr Margie Taylor, Chief Dental Officer for Scotland
Dr Margie Taylor presented the Childsmile programme, one of the best practices highlighted by the Platform in its collection.
Firstly, Dr Taylor emphasised the importance of upstream solutions, meaning solutions coming from public authorities. The Childsmile programme is built on 4 pillars: Core Tooth brushing Programme, Childsmile Nursery, Childsmile School and the Childsmile Practice. The Core Tooth brushing programme consists of every child attending nursery receiving toothbrushes and toothpaste for home use. Children from the age of 3 and 4 year old can access free, daily and supervised tooth brushing. The Childsmile Nursery programme focuses on the most deprived children. The programme also includes mobile vans visiting schools, with health education units and mobile dental units. Finally the Childsmile Practice raises parental awareness of good oral health behaviours and supports parents to put these behaviours into practice. Every new-born is routinely linked to Childsmile via Health Visitor and families requiring additional support receive enhanced home/community visits.
As the programme is being evaluated on an ongoing basis, Dr Taylor outlined its benefits: less caries, less dental extractions and less fillings. It was also found that the Childsmile programme was cost-efficient, with the cost of the nursery tooth brushing programme being inferior to the expected costs resulting from actual and anticipated dental treatments.
Presentation by Dr Barbara Janssens, University of Gent
Dr Barbara Janssens presented the Gerodent programme, which focuses on the elderly in Belgian nursing homes. As the personnel in the nursing homes are not always sufficiently educated on oral health issues, the elderly often do not get appropriate oral health care. This means there is no policy on oral health for frail older people, no prevention programmes and treatment is often limited to emergencies.
The Gerodent programme addresses these issues by creating an innovative care model and pathway. This consists of setting up an oral health care team and to train oral health specialists in the nursing homes who then can train other members of staff. The mobile dental team goes on site in the nursing homes, supports the nursing staff and provides preventive and curative oral health care.
Dr Janssens said that the Gerodent programme has visited more than 40 nursing homes (70 by the end of 2015), reaching over 4,000 residents. The visits of the mobile team have had a positive impact on the personnel of the nursing homes and have improved the oral health of residents. As a result, the programme is in high demand for many nursing homes across Flanders, Belgium, and is considered as an example both at national and international levels.
Closing remarks by Dr Andrey Kovatchev, MEP
MEP Dr Kovatchev concluded the Oral Health Summit, emphasising the importance of oral health in a general health strategy. He had particular interest in the question of access to healthcare. Even if healthcare remains a national competence and Member States are very reluctant (especially in Eastern Europe) to give leeway to the EU to act in this field, Dr Kovatchev sees a role for the EU. The EU should provide support to Member States and health organisations to increase the access to health care. To pressure the EU to do so, he is part of a group of MEPs that has been fighting for better access to healthcare. The group has had some victories the MEP said, one being progress on healthcare indicators.
- Welcome and sandwich lunch
- Opening address - Ms Karin Kadenbach MEP
- Presentation of best practices - Dr Paula Vassallo, Chair of Platform for Better Oral Health in Europe
- Oral Health Experts from across Europe
- Closing address - Dr Andrey Kovatchev MEP
- End of the Summit