In New Zealand, welfare recipients are being reminded by SMS to regularly brush their teeth as part of a government oral health campaign.
The action comes as the result of concern from the Health Ministry about the number of emergency dental care grants being given to unemployed young adults.
The 10-week trial message program encourages people to brush their teeth, and asks whether or not they have done so already.
The SMS program is a preventative approach to improving oral health. It has been described by the New Zealand government as an innovative solution to the country’s oral health problems. It also provides a new means of reducing the number of beneficiaries seeking emergency dental care grants, which can be very expensive.
Belinda Smith, from the Canterbury District Health Board, told The Guardian that the world-first program was easy to implement, cost-effective and “allows us to contact hard-to-reach populations to address health disparities”.
SMS was chosen as the medium to reach the young audience because of it’s ubiquity. With a 98% open rate of SMS messages compared to a 22% open rate for emails (Frost & Sullivan, 2010), we’re not surprised by the choice of SMS for the program.
Brushing rates rose from 53% to 73% during the trial. With results like these, it may be worth considering implementing our own government-funded SMS reminders to promote oral health.