Important target groups
School children and youth
Oral health through health promoting schools
WHO's Global School Health Initiative, launched in 1995, seeks to mobilize and strengthen health promotion and education activities at local, national, regional and global levels. The initiative is designed to improve the health of children, school personnel, families and other members of the community through schools. The Health Promoting School can be characterized as a school constantly strengthening its capacity as a healthy setting for living, learning and working. The WHO Global School Health Initiative consists of four broad strategies:
- Building capacity to advocate for improved school health programmes.
- Creating networks and alliances for the development of Health Promoting Schools.
- Strengthening national capacity.
- Research to improve school health programmes.
To help individuals and groups advocate the development of Health Promoting Schools, WHO has produced an "Information Series on School Health". Guidelines are given on how to assist school and community leaders to improve the health and education of young people, and individual documents in the Series encourage schools to address one or more important health issues.
The WHO Oral Health Programme has prepared an oral health technical document to strengthen the implementation of an oral health component of the Health Promoting Schools programme. Strong arguments for oral health promotion through schools are for example:
- Pupils and students can be accessed during their formative years, from childhood to adolescence. These are important stages in people's lives when lifelong oral health related behaviour as well as beliefs and attitudes are being developed.
- The schools can provide a supportive environment for promoting oral health. Access to safe water, for example, may allow for general and oral hygiene programmes. Also, a safe physical environment in schools can help reduce the risk of accidents and concomitant dental trauma.
- The burden of oral disease in children is significant. Most established oral diseases are irreversible, will last for a lifetime and have impact on quality of life and general health.
- School policies, the physical environment and education for health are essential for attainment of oral health and control of risk behaviours, such as intake of sugary foods and drinks, tobacco use and alcohol consumption.
- Schools can provide a platform for provision of oral health care, i.e. preventive and curative services.
Through an extensive Health Promoting Schools network, WHO works at global and regional levels with Education International, UNAIDS and UNESCO to enable teachers' representative organizations throughout the world to use their capacities and experiences to improve health through schools. The WHO Oral Health Programme links up to those networks in addition to school oral health networks established across countries and regions.
Training-of-trainers programmes for schoolteachers are conducted to increase national capacities in relation to the integration of oral health promotion in schools. As part of the development of WHO's Mega-Countries Health Promotion network, the WHO Oral Health Programme encourages exchange of good practice among persons responsible for school health and health promotion in countries with the world's largest populations.
Oral health of youth
WHO compiles and consolidates research on interventions that can improve health through schools in order to build capacity at national level and to monitor the health status of children and teachers. The WHO Oral Health Programme has developed methodologies for process and outcome evaluation of school oral health programmes in order to strengthen the implementation of such programmes, and the WHO Collaborating Centres on Oral Health.
One fifth of the world’s population is adolescent, defined by WHO as a person between 10 and 19 years of age. A young person with high self-esteem and good social skills who is clear about her/his values and has access to relevant information is likely to make positive decisions about health. External factors have a tremendous impact on how adolescents think and behave; the values and behaviours of their peers are increasingly important while parents and other family members continue to be influential. Factors within the wider environment are also significant (e.g. mass media, industries, community institutions). Programmes aimed at improving the oral health of youth need to take these factors into account, for example, in relation to consumption of sweets, sugary beverages, tobacco and alcohol. Effective alliances of the home, schools, oral health professionals and community organizations are needed in order to control risks to oral health in young people.