Health & hygiene

This work supports the following UN Sustainable Development Goals

  • Good Health and Wellbeing
  • Partnership For The Goals
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Improving oral health

We’re promoting better oral health with a simple but effective message: brush your teeth day and night.

Boy with toothbrush and toothpaste

Fighting tooth decay is vital

Almost all adults and up to 90% of children worldwide have experienced tooth decay.1 This might seem like a minor complaint, but it can have a big knock-on effect on health, well-being and productivity.

Toothache is the number one reason for kids missing school in many countries. But it’s not just their education that suffers. Poor oral hygiene can lead to long-term health issues and life-threatening illnesses such as heart disease.

The solution is simple: brush teeth regularly with fluoride toothpaste to prevent decay. Brushing day and night can cut the occurrence of cavities by 90%2 compared to not brushing teeth at all.

Stronger teeth means stronger markets for our toothpaste

An estimated 3 billion people don’t brush their teeth twice a day. Most use less than half the toothpaste dentists recommend for brushing properly. And 1 billion or more don’t use fluoride toothpaste at all.

That’s a big prospective market for our oral health brands like Signal – and a lot of people we can help. Signal is also known as Pepsodent (in Asia & Latin America), Mentadent (in Italy), Aim (in Greece) and P/S (in Vietnam). Worldwide, we’ve reached nearly 78 million people, vastly exceeding our original target of 50 million by 2020. In 2017, This Sustainable Living brand grew by 4% globally.


Girl brushing her teeth

Reaching remote tea estate communities in Sri Lanka

The 420 estates that supply our tea business in Sri Lanka are sprawled across vast areas – around 200,000 hectares – in inaccessible regions. The terrain and climate are often harsh. For the 1.5 million people living there, it’s tricky to get to a dentist – or even to a store to buy essentials that most people take for granted.

In 2016, we selected five estates to pilot our Perfect Estates programme, based on the needs of the communities. Thanks to our dental camps, by the end of 2017, kids aged 5–15 on ten estates now get an annual check-up and treatment from a dentist. And we’re teaching children at 100 estate schools how important it is to brush their teeth and eat healthily.

New stores on site give estate workers and their families easy access to hygiene essentials like toothpaste and soap.

The stores give us a new market too – for brands like Signal and Lifebuoy. With 420 plantations across the country, we’ve still got a long way to go but we plan to reach a further ten estates every year.

The power of partnerships: oral hygiene in Hungary

By partnering with retailers, we’re able to touch even more lives and strengthen our relationships with customers too.

A significant number of Hungarian children have bad teeth because they are not taught oral hygiene from an early age. Our Signal team wanted to tackle this issue and in 2016, launched a campaign, the Smiling Teeth Programme, with DM drug stores in Hungary. So far, the programme has helped to educate more than 10,000 children aged 6-8, and their families, at home and in schools on toothbrushing and oral hygiene.


Van promoting toothbrushing

Reaching remote islands: filling the gap in Greece

For residents of Greece’s isolated Aegean islands, a trip to the dentist can mean a major expedition. So, we decided to take the dentist to them. How? With our mobile dentist clinic, staffed by volunteer dentists from local NGO, Omada Aigaiou (‘Team Aegean’).

The specially-fitted van has everything needed for oral health check-ups, right down to the dentist’s chair. For over 25 years, people all over Greece have been met by the smiling face of our driver, Costas, as the mobile clinic does the rounds. And we’ve given more than 300,000 children dental checks and training on good oral hygiene.

In 2017, for the second year running, we partnered with our customer Delhaise (known locally as AB) to reach more people. AB is one of the biggest retailers in Greece. Together, we shared our story with consumers and raised funds through a joint cause marketing campaign.

For every Signal (AIM) product sold in AB stores, we donated five cents to support better oral health for people on 13 remote islands.

In 2017, AB’s sales of AIM products increased by 25%, and the programme has enhanced consumer loyalty to both brands. The funds raised helped us reach more than 12,000 children in 2017.

Working with the experts to promote better brushing behaviour

For over 25 years, we have been on a mission through our Signal brand to encourage good brushing habits through school programmes and free dental check-ups.

Since 2005, Smile has partnered with the World Dental Federation, an independent organisation representing over 1 million dentists, to activate the Brush Day and Night campaign. A fun and engaging school programme, it’s proven to increase brushing behaviour by 25%. Through Signal, we have made our school programme materials publicly available online so that anyone can get involved in teaching kids to brush day and night!

Signal also partners with the World Dental Federation to drive awareness and promote oral health on 20 March each year, World Oral Health Day. Across 31 markets, we run online campaigns, pledges to Brush Day & Night, mass toothbrushing and singing events, singing events, amongst others.

Making a change in just 21 days

Little Brush Big Brush is our free interactive behaviour change game to get children excited about brushing their teeth. Launched at the end of 2016, Little Brush Big Brush went live in a further nine markets across Asia and Africa in 2017.

Packed with entertaining animal characters, the game unfolds in a series of daily episodes delivered via Facebook messenger, text or audio messages. Children must complete their nightly brushing challenge to unlock the next episode of the story – every day for 21 days.

Why 21 days? Because research shows that’s how long something needs to be practised for it to become a habit. This is the theory behind our Five Levers for Change (PDF | 4MB).

Starting good habits early

Starting young can ingrain good habits for a lifetime. That’s why we’re investing in programmes to teach children the importance of brushing their teeth.

Around 95% of 11-14 year olds from low income families suffer from untreated tooth decay and this is one of the main reasons for kids missing school. That’s why we set a vision to change the oral care of 25 million children in Africa alone by 2020. We’re going into schools across Africa to encourage children to improve their oral health by brushing their teeth day a night.

Protecting African smiles for a lifetime

Kosala Hewamadduma

For Kosala Hewamadduma, Brand Development Director, Oral Care, the day he visited the school programme to evaluate the progress in Ethiopia changed his life.

“As a father, I have never had to educate my children to brush their teeth because they have just imitated my behaviour. Today, they brush day and night. But the children at the school I visited in Ethiopia hadn’t seen their parents brushing their teeth and they weren’t taught about it at school either.

On the day, once we had completed the theory part of the programme, we handed out toothpaste and toothbrushes to the children. But they were struggling to understand what to do with them because that was the first time they had ever seen or touched a toothbrush or toothpaste. It was a real eye-opener and changed my thinking because I learnt that our Asia Brush Day and Night model wasn’t working in markets like Ethiopia.

So, we did a long practical session with the kids at that school and I’ve used what I learned that day to change our school programme in Africa. We introduce kids to a toothbrush and toothpaste, and now allow more time for the kids to practise toothbrushing.

By the end of 2017, Signal was the market leading toothpaste in Ethiopia. We’ve reached over a million Ethiopian children through our toothbrushing programme and aim to reach over 10 million in the future."

Recruiting young ambassadors for oral hygiene

Parents might be good at telling their children to brush their teeth, but they don’t always practise what they preach. In Indonesia, 79% of parents tell their children to brush day and night, but don’t do it themselves.

By educating children, we also have an opportunity to reach their parents, families and communities as the kids we teach become ambassadors for good oral hygiene. We give them practical tools, like a 21-day calendar with stickers, to keep track of their toothbrushing – and their parents’ toothbrushing too.

A smiling future is our goal

We’re convinced that better brushing is the key to a smiling future. We’ve already made great strides, reaching nearly 78 million people so far. And we want to get even more brushing night and day.

1 World Health Organization:

2 Compared with not brushing teeth at all

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