Young beneficiaries are being targeted by a new programme which reminds them to brush their teeth via text message.
The Ministry of Health was concerned with the number of emergency dental care grants given out by Work and Income to unemployed young people, Canterbury District Health Board's Belinda Smith told the NZ Population Health Congress in Auckland today.
"We wanted to remind people to brush their teeth. We know about the success smoking cessation services has had with text reminders, and knew young adults are always on their phones, so we thought we'd give it a go too," she said.
The Ministry of Health-funded team responsible for developing the programme were Pegasus Health PHO, Canterbury District Health Board and the University of Canterbury.
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The team worked alongside WINZ to round up a large number of unemployed young people in Christchurch to take part in the project.
Over 10 weeks the participants received a series of motivational text messages reminding them to brush their teeth and requiring that they indicated whether they had been brushing.
"When we started only 53 per cent reported they were brushing their teeth. By the end of the 10 weeks that had risen to 73 per cent. Even better was that this success stretched across all the participants, and this wasn't limited to any particular age, gender or ethnic group."
The programme appeared to be the first of its kind in the world and while it was in the early stages of development the project team were planning to use it again to help remedy New Zealand's increasing problem with oral health, Ms Smith said.
"Forty-seven per cent of Canterbury adults have had a tooth extracted. Tooth brushing twice daily is an essential habit to prevent dental disease."
One of the programme's advantages was that it was relatively easy to implement, and allowed the team to contact hard-to-reach populations to address health disparities.
The programme was also cost effective and had the potential to significantly reduce the amount of tax payer money spent on emergency dental care, she said.