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Teaching us to clean our teeth

Oral health promotion poster, early 20th centuryIndividual dentists have always given advice to their patients about their care of teeth. However, it was not until the late 19th century that a more organised approach to dental health education developed.

A survey carried out by George Cunningham and William Fisher in 1891 revealed the appalling state of children’s teeth.

Cunningham dedicated his life to improving awareness of good oral hygiene by commissioning films, puppet shows and setting up the first dedicated clinic for school children in Cambridge in 1907.

The School Dentists Society was established in 1896 to inform education authorities about the importance of disease prevention, rather than only of treatment.

The society aimed to encourage teachers to include toothbrushing in the school daily routine and they produced the first teaching resources in the form of wallcharts.

Oral health promotion poster, Dental Board of the UK, 1930s

The first major commercial campaign was launched by Gibbs in 1923. The popular Ivory Castles Campaign produced films and imaginative booklets to drive the message home: "Your teeth are ivory castles defend them with Gibbs dentifrice".

At this time, The Dental Board of the UK published a wide range of pamphlets, leaflets and posters, some by well-known artists such as Mabel Lucy Atwell.

The board's concern was not only for teeth as important in themselves, but also because they feared that bad teeth across the nation might lead to civil unrest and communism!