Minister O’Neill launches Happy Smiles for pre-school children

Date published: 05 October 2016

Health Minister Michelle O’Neill today visited Primate Dixon Primary School in Coalisland to launch the Happy Smiles programme for pre-school children.


This initiative is designed to improve the oral health of pre-school children through making tooth brushing a part of the daily activities in pre-school, helping children to make healthy choices for snacks and break, and learning about oral health more widely through songs, music, stories and drama.   

In launching the programme, Minister O’Neill said: “I am delighted to be here in Coalisland to meet the children who have been taking part in the Happy Smiles programme and hear more about what they have learned. 

“Early interventions in all areas of health and social wellbeing can have positive influences on outcomes for childhood and the rest of our lives.”

Bringing together best practice from existing programmes, the Happy Smiles initiative encourages shared responsibility and collaborative effort between Community Dental Services, school teams, parents and their children. 

The Minister continued: “Happy Smiles is an excellent example of inter-agency working, where health and education professionals have come together to design and deliver a programme that can make a real difference to the oral health of children and young people and I look forward to it being rolled out across the north.”

Between 2004 and 2014, the number of children requiring a general anaesthetic for dental treatment has decreased from almost 8,856 in 2004 to just over 5,172 in 2014. Furthermore, the number of five year old children registered with a dentist has risen dramatically enabling positive preventative work by family dentists and their teams in supporting families in the early years. The Happy Smiles programme aims to build on this success and further improve the oral health of young children.

Notes to editors: 

  1. Healthy Smiles aims to improve the oral health of pre-school children.  There are three strands to the programme:
    • Happy Smiles Tooth Brushing programme – where pre-school facilities will be offered the opportunity to join or remain in the programme every year and staff will be provided with the training and resources to support tooth brushing and infection control in the setting.
    • Happy Smiles – Healthy Snacks – where healthy and low sugar breaks and snacks are promoted to aid dental development and prevent tooth decay as well as to encourage good nutrition from an early age.
    • Happy Smiles Education programme – using a variety of learning and play opportunities such as stories, songs and drama to explore issues around dental health as part of day to day practice. 
  2. The programme is an oral health award scheme for pre-school facilities. It is planned that all pre-school facilities will be contacted annually and invited to participate in the programme. Monitoring of the various elements of the programme will be carried out throughout the year.
  3. Whilst the percentage of children in the north of Ireland experiencing dental decay has decreased over recent years, dental disease is still one of the most common diseases of childhood.  
  4. The extraction of decayed teeth is the most common reason for young children to undergo a general anaesthetic procedure. The number of children requiring a general anaesthetic for dental treatment has decreased in the 10 years between 2004 and 2014 from almost 8,856 in 2004 to just over 5,172 in 2014. The regional Oral Health Strategy launched in June 2007 can be viewed online.
  5. Media queries should be directed to DoH Press Office on 028 9052 0074.  Out of hours, contact the duty press officer via pager number 07623 974383 and your call will be returned.

Share this page

Back to top