Creating health-promoting environments in preschool communities: local implementation of the Smiles 4 Miles Oral Health Promotion Program

Tooth decay is Australia's most common health problem and is largely preventable. Oral health is a key aspect of health generally and strongly impacts a range of daily activities. It is a major reason for preventable hospital admissions in children. Preventing oral disease in children’s early years will lead to better health outcomes throughout their entire life journeys. Health promotion programs addressing this issue effectively are therefore very important. Smiles 4 Miles is a program which aims to improve the oral health of children and their families in high-risk areas across Victoria. It is an initiative of Dental Health Services Victoria which partners with community organisations to implement the program locally. Plenty Valley Community Health provides leadership to innovatively coordinate this program within the Whittlesea municipality, where a significantly lower percentage of residents (69%) visited Dental Professionals in the last two years than the average in Victoria (75.2%). The program builds capacity for oral health promotion predominantly in preschools and is based on the World Health Organisation's best practice Health Promoting Schools Framework. Early childhood services are supported to be health-promoting settings which encourage good oral health habits among children in their care during their formative years. The program recognises that not just educators but all members of the service including educators, families and children are key partners and can contribute to an environment which supports healthy eating and oral health. Program sustainability is ongoing, growing steadily from nine services in 2008 to 22 currently reaching over 2,000 families annually. KEYWORDS: Health Promotion, Oral health, Life Course Key Messages: 1. Effective Health Promotion programs which address oral health disease are important. 2. Smiles 4 Miles is based on the Health Promoting Schools model and can be adapted to local conditions. 3. The Smiles 4 Miles model can be easily embedded into Early Years Settings to promote oral health in all members including young children, their families and staff .

Angela Robinson & Fiona Gallagher

Plenty Valley Community Health