Oral Health Inequalities project contributes to contemporary oral health interventions

‘Oral Health Inequalities, Oral Hygiene Cultures in England, 1870-1970’, a project led by Dr Claire L. Jones, Lecturer in the History of Medicine, was awarded an Academy of Medical Sciences/Wellcome Trust grant worth £50,000 for two years.

Claire is a historian of medicine and her research centres on the cultural, economic and social history of medicine and health in Britain post 1750, with particular emphases on the relationship between medicine and commerce, and the ways in which this relationship affects professional social structures, consumption and material culture.

The Oral Health Inequalities project uncovers regional variation in oral health across England between 1870 and 1970 and demonstrates the importance of socioeconomic status and social and cultural norms in shaping inequalities in oral health across this one hundred year period. As a historical project, this provides new insights into oral health and makes significant contributions to medicine and health more broadly. By working with a range of partners, including the British Dental Association and the International Centre for Oral Health Inequalities Research and Policy, the project also contributes to contemporary oral health. Through its examination of the degree of efficacy of past medical and public health interventions to reduce oral health inequalities, the project assists the development of effective oral health interventions today.

Most of the oral health inequalities that existed one hundred years ago still exist; tooth decay is currently the number one reason that children in England are admitted to hospital and results in at least 60,000 days being missed from school during the year for hospital extractions alone. The project’s cross-disciplinary research network, Oral Health Humanities and Social Science Network, currently has fifty members from all over the world and seeks to encourage collaborative working between dental professionals and scholars in the humanities and social sciences to improve oral health outcomes. Claire and her project assistant, Helen Franklin, have presented their work at conferences in the UK, Europe and New Zealand.

The project also has a significant public engagement strand. Jones was a historical consultant on ‘Teeth’, the Wellcome Collection’s successful exhibition which ran May – September 2018 and she collaborated with the British Dental Association Museum on a range of activities and events. Successful events included a dramatic re-enactment of a school toothbrush drill from 1910 and a witness seminar focused on the past, present and future of the toothbrush featuring a panel of experts. ‘A Yardstick by which Civilisation is Measured: 200 Years of the Toothbrush’, featured toothbrushes from collections all over the country and formed part of the British Dental Association Museum’s exhibition programme in late 2019.