Dental health campaign

Singapore Infopedia


The islandwide dental health campaign was launched in February 1969 as part of the Ministry of Health’s efforts to inculcate good dental hygiene habits from young. Led by the Ministry of Health in conjunction with the Ministry of Education, the programme comprised compulsory toothbrushing as part of the school curriculum, lessons on proper toothbrushing techniques and dental care as well as a dental health week.1

In the 1960s, dental hygiene standards were poor as evidenced in the teeth of national service enlistees. It was reported that half of the population did not know how to brush their teeth properly and half of all schoolchildren did not own toothbrushes. For those who did own toothbrushes, they were not brushing regularly or correctly.2

To instil good dental hygiene habits among the population, then President Yusof Ishak announced during his opening address to Parliament on 6 May 1968 that dental health services would be improved and expanded with greater emphasis placed on dental health education, beginning with schools. Dental care services would also be expanded and dental clinics established for schoolchildren.3

By April 1969, the Ministry of Health (MOH) had set up 50 dental clinics, 44 of them located in primary schools.4 These clinics ensured that students received regular dental check-ups and were taught how to take proper care of their teeth.5 The deployment of school dental nurses at the school dental service helped to alleviate the manpower shortage.6 By May the following year, the number of dental clinics for schoolchildren had risen to 60.7

Compulsory toothbrushing and dental education
Following a successful pilot scheme involving 10 primary schools in 1968, compulsory toothbrushing was implemented in all primary schools in February 1969.8 The toothbrushing exercise aimed to educate the children on the importance of dental health as well as inculcate in them the good habit of daily brushing using the correct technique.9 The toothbrushing drills, which involved all primary one to three students, were incorporated into the school curriculum and took place during recess or at a convenient time.10

As part of the toothbrushing exercise, each child was supplied with a toothbrush and plastic mug at a fee of 25 cents per set.11 To prepare teachers to instruct students on the proper toothbrushing techniques and to supervise the toothbrushing drills correctly, some 2,680 teachers received training from the Dental Health Education Unit, established in 1968 by MOH. The unit was tasked with drawing up a curriculum in dental health education for primary schools in Singapore as well as organising health education activities such as exhibitions, talks and contests.12 By the end of 1969, a total of 367,735 children from 439 primary schools had participated in the toothbrushing drills, with an estimated 1.5 million toothbrushes sold by 1970.13 Singapore became the first country in the region at the time to carry out instruction in toothbrushing on such a massive scale.14

In 1970, a contest for teachers supervising the toothbrushing drills was organised, with 289 teachers from 197 schools taking part. The participants were judged on their ability to organise and manage the class during the toothbrushing drill; the children’s toothbrushing technique; the cleanliness and condition of the children’s toothbrushes and mugs as well as the children’s oral hygiene after toothbrushing.15

Dental Health Week

The Dental Health Education Unit launched the inaugural Dental Health Week in April 1969 to promote dental hygiene. Held from 2 to 6 April, the activities organised included the first Singapore Dental Congress attended by dentists from various parts of the world, a dental health exhibition at the Victoria Memorial Hall (now known as the Victoria Concert Hall), and the “Miss Dental Health” and “Mr Dental Health” contests targeted at young people with healthy teeth.16 The two winners of the contests each received a S$500 cash prize, a trophy, an electric toothbrush and tubes of toothpaste.17

Success of the campaign
The success of the inaugural Dental Health Week in 1969 spurred MOH to organise the same event that took place from 4 to 10 May the following year. The programme line-up included a dental health exhibition comprising free dental examinations, screening of dental health films, a dental health quiz and sale of dental products. Other activities organised were the “Mr and Miss Dental Health” competition targeted at those between 16 and 20 years of age, and a dental health poster competition for children.18

The compulsory toothbrushing campaign introduced in schools in 1969 was also cited by then Minister for Health Chua Sian Chin in 1971 as one of three factors – the other two being the fluoridation of Singapore’s water supply and an effective school dental service – that played a part in helping to reduce the incidents of tooth decay in children aged seven to nine.19

Following the success of compulsory toothbrushing in primary schools, MOH introduced dental education and toothbrushing in kindergartens in 1972.20 Kindergarten teachers were trained in the correct way of brushing teeth and in basic dental hygiene.21

Over the following years, MOH continued to step up dental health education campaign through exhibitions, talks and film shows to promote dental health consciousness among the public.22 Consequently, the standard of oral health among school children improved as a result of health education efforts in schools, the work done by the school dental clinics and the fluoridation of water supply.23 In 1988, the health ministry announced that it would focus on adults and extend dental health education to other groups such as workers.24

More programmes were organised to raise public awareness on dental and oral diseases. In 2000, the Singapore Dental Association (SDA) partnered the government to provide holistic and quality dental care to the community.25 The Health Promotion Board (HPB) was set up on 1 April 2001 to promote and introduce health programmes for students in schools, adults at the workplace and the elderly in the community. With the collaboration between the new statutory board and the Ministry of Education, the government announced the plan to invest S$16.6 million for new dental clinics in 53 secondary schools, purchase 20 mobile dental clinics and recruit dental therapists as an extension of the free onsite dental services programme for students. In addition, the Singapore Dental Health Foundation organised the first ever Smile Contest for senior citizens which took place on 24 November 2001 to promote dental hygiene.26

Oral Health Month
Oral Health Month was first introduced in 2004. The campaign organised by the SDA and toothpaste manufacturer Colgate-Palmolive aimed to encourage people to have dental checkups at least once a year.27 The 12th consecutive Oral Health Month on the theme “Celebrating 50 Years of Smiles” was held in August 2015. Throughout the month, free dental checkups were available at 320 participating clinics nationwide.28

Oral Health Month in 2017 took place in March with free dental checkups provided at participating malls and dental clinics throughout the month.29 As an initiative under the NurtureSG Plan, the HPB announced that it would offer free oral health screening for preschoolers aged 3 to 4 years to at least 800 childcare centres by 2019 and 1,100 childcare centres by 2020.30


Joshua Chia Yeong Jia & Tan Hooi Geng

1. “A ‘How to Brush Teeth’ Drive in Schools Soon,” Straits Times, 19 December 1968, 13; “Expert Tells Why Eskimos Have Perfect Teeth,” Straits Times, 26 May 1970, 5; “Dental Education Soon for Infant Schools,” New Nation, 17 May 1971, 3 (From NewspaperSG); Ministry of Culture, Dental Health Campaign, press release, 17 December 1968. (From National Archives of Singapore document no. PressR19681217e)
2. “‘How to Brush Teeth’ Drive in Schools Soon.”
3. Parliament of Singapore, Ministry of Health: Addenda,” vol. 1 of Parliamentary Debates: Official Report, 6 May 1968, col. 31. (Call no. RSING 328.5957 SIN)
4. Chua Sian Chin, “Opening of the Dental Health Exhibition,” speech, Victoria Memorial Hall, 1 April 1969, transcript, Ministry of Culture. (From National Archives of Singapore document no. PressR19690401a)
5. “7 More Dental Clinics for S’pore Primary Schools,” Straits Times, 15 February 1969, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
6. Chua, “Opening of the Dental Health Exhibition.”
7. Chor Yeok Eng, “Opening of the Dental Health Exhibition,” speech, Victoria Memorial Hall, 4 May 1969, transcript, Ministry of Culture. (From National Archives of Singapore document no. PressR19700504a)
8. Ministry of Culture Singapore, Singapore 1968 (Singapore: Ministry of Culture, 1968), 324 (Microfilm NL6554); Ministry of Culture Singapore, Singapore 1969 (Singapore: Ministry of Culture, 1969), 220. (Microfilm NL11907]
9. “Improving Health with Studies and Treatment,” Straits Times, 3 May 1970, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Ministry of Culture, Dental Health Campaign; Dental Education Soon for Infant Schools.”
11. “‘How to Brush Teeth’ Drive in Schools Soon”; Ministry of Culture, Dental Health Campaign..
12. Chua Sian Chin, “The Presentation of Prizes for the Teachers’ Contest in Tooth Brushing Drill in Primary School at the School of Nursing,” speech, Outram Road, General Hospital, 25 July 1970, transcript, Ministry of Culture (From National Archives of Singapore document no. PressR19700725a-2); Chua, “Opening of the Dental Health Exhibition.”
13. “Tooth Decay Reduced in Students,” New Nation, 12 July 1971, 2 (From NewspaperSG); Chor, “Opening of the Dental Health Exhibition.”
14. “‘How to Brush Teeth’ Drive in Schools Soon.”
15. “Improving Health with Studies and Treatment”; Chua, “Presentation of Prizes.”
16. “World Dentists for S’pore Congress,” Straits Times, 21 February 1969, 4; “Health for Frogress,” Straits Times, 6 April 1969, 8; “Miss Dental Health’s Winning Smile,” Straits Times, 8 April 1969, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
17. “Miss Dental Health's winning smile.”
18. Peter Teo, “Plans to Promote High Standard of Dental Hygiene,” Straits Times, 3 May 1970, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
19. “Tooth Decay Reduced in Students.”
20. “The Correct Strokes…,” New Nation, 21 February 1972, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
21. “Dental Education Soon for Infant Schools”; “Toddlers to Learn Dental Hygiene Soon,” (1971, May 18). Straits Times, 18 May 1971, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
22. Lim Kwan Kwan, “Bad Teeth ‘No Longer a Serious Problem’,” Straits Times, 13 November 1988, 22. (From NewspaperSG)
23. Lim, “Bad Teeth ‘No Longer a Serious Problem’.”
24. “Focus Now on Adults,” Straits Times, 13 November 1988, 22. (From NewspaperSG)
25. “Dental Health Here Very Good,” Straits Times, 14 April 2000, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
26. Paula McCoy, “$16.6m for School Dental Scheme,” Straits Times, 11 March 2001, 26; Dawn Chia, “Brush…Floss…Brush…Then This Bright Smile,” New Paper, 24 November 2001, 10; Salma Khalik, “New Stat Board to Promote Health,” Straits Times, 23 February 2001, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
27. Tan Hui Leng, “Dental Association, Colgate Offer Free Dental Check-Ups,” Today, 19 October 2004, 4; “You Can Get Your Teeth Checked for Free,” Straits Times, 19 October 2004, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
28. “Oral Health Month 2015 Celebrates 50 Years of Smiles,” Dental Asia (September–October 2015), 16, accessed15 January 2018.
29. “Oral Health Month,” Ministry of Health, accessed 15 January 2018.
30. “Dental Health among Pre-Primary Children,” Ministry of Health, accessed 1 August 2017.

The information in this article is valid as at 2017 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources.  It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject.  Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.


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