Exploring the ‘F’ word in children’s oral health literature

Cathryn Carboon

1The Carevan Foundation , 161 Grossman Drive, Wangaratta North, VIC, 3678, cathcarboon@bigpond.com


Oral health literacy is emerging as an important determinant of health, as research shows poor oral health literacy is linked to poor oral health outcomes (Institute of Medicine 2013). A review was undertaken in 2015 to evaluate the oral health messages in children’s picture books available in Australian public libraries. The review showed only 15% of the books analysed mentioned the use of fluoride in their oral health messages. Of the books that mentioned fluoride it was only in reference to toothpaste, no references were made regarding water fluoridation or fluoride varnish treatments.

Research by the Carevan Sun Smiles program at 6 primary schools in NSW and Victoria over 4 years has shown a large gap in children’s knowledge regarding the benefits of water fluoridation and fluoride varnish for preventing dental caries. Given that the use of fluorides has the largest evidence base for any preventive oral health intervention, it is important to increase children and parents knowledge and understanding of the benefits of fluoride for good oral health.

Children need to engage in learning about the benefits of fluoride with age appropriate, fun, visual resources which are linked to the children’s cognitive ability level. The resources need to be shared within the child’s family environment to have a greater impact and involve parents in the learning process. Picture books provide one approach to support oral health literacy for young children, however there needs to be more emphasis on the ‘F’ word – fluoride!
Reference and acknowledgements

Institute of Medicine 2013, Oral health literacy: workshop summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
Kathleen Amant 2008, Anna brushes her teeth. Australia. Walker Books.
Felicity Brooks 2011, Brush your teeth, Max and Millie. United Kingdom. Usborne Books.
Michael Dahl 2010, Pony brushes his teeth. Minnesota. Picture Word Books.


Cathryn graduated as a dental hygienist in 1989,completed a Graduate Certificate in Health Promotion in 2011 and  is currently undertaking a Masters in Health Promotion at Deakin University. Cathryn’s career in dental hygiene has covered  general practice, orthodontics, periodontics and special needs,  practicing in Germany, New Zealand and Australia. In 2006 Cathryn became a Colgate Professional Educator, presenting oral health modules at Melbourne, La Trobe, RMIT and Charles Sturt Universities. Since 2007 Cathryn has been SARRAH’s Network Coordinator for Oral Health . Cathryn is a Board Member of the Carevan Foundation and Manager of the Carevan Sun Smiles Program.

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