Evaluation of oral health literacy and comprehension in rural grade seven high school students – an analysis of an oral health education program

Mr James Macdonald1, Mr Connor Smith1, Mr Simon Wilkinson1, Mr Jason Park1, Ms Pegah Shafieekhazaneh1, Dr Felicity Croker1, Dr Karen Carlisle2

1James Cook University – The College of Medicine and Dentistry (Cairns), Smithfield, Cairns, QLD

2Australian Institute of Tropical Health & Medicine (James Cook University – Townsville), Douglas, Townsville, QLD


The purpose of the presentation:

This paper presents the findings from an evaluation of an oral health education program currently implemented by dental students in a rural high school in North Queensland, Australia.

The nature and scope of the topic:

Rural adolescents are identified as “at risk” of experiencing poor oral health. School-based oral health (OH) education programs have the potential to reduce the risk factors, however, evaluation is required to monitor their impact and potential outcomes.

Issue(s) under consideration:

This ongoing study aims to deliver and evaluate a recurring oral health education program currently implemented at Ingham State High School (ISHS), in North Queensland, Australia. This program is run concurrently with the school vaccination schedule. Recommendations for improvements to the program are focused on increasing engagement with young people to improve OH behaviours.

This mixed methods study comprised of an OH literacy survey and focus groups with Grade 7 students, along with interviews with school teachers involved in the program. Focus group and interview transcripts were thematically analysed. Data from this study provides a valuable contribution to the understanding and knowledge of oral health literacy and behaviour amongst rural adolescents.

Outcome / Conclusion:

The current oral hygiene program was well received. Students demonstrated high levels of OH knowledge, thoroughly participated and enjoyed the program. Additionally, this study reinforces the value of oral health education programs in high schools, and illustrates several ways to improve future oral health education programs. To increase the validity and generalisability of future studies, a before-and-after survey approach should be used. Given the ease and cost-effectiveness of the program, it may be successfully implemented in other rural schools alongside their respective vaccination programs.


James Macdonald is a current 5th Year Dentistry student at James Cook University. He was first admitted to course in March 2013, and is expected to graduate December 2018. Prior to that time, he was a Radiotherapist working in the state of Victoria. His responsibilities included the planning of, and administration of radiation treatments for cancer patients. A graduate of Deakin University in 2003, Mr. Macdonald received a Bachelor of Science (Biomedical) (First Class Honours) before completing a Masters Radiation Therapy at Monash University in 2008.