The Carevan Sun Smiles program was launched in June 2012, out of a growing concern for the oral health of Australian pre-school and primary school children. The Sun Smiles program is delivered free to all schools, libraries and community groups who participate.


Sun Smiles aims to improve oral health literacy, oral hygiene skills and access to preventive dental care for socially and economically disadvantaged children in rural and urban Australia, to enable future improvements in their oral health.


  1. Strengthen local community and oral health professional’s capacity to provide oral health promotion, oral health literacy and preventive dental care.
  2. Develop oral health promotion resources with a focus on oral health puppetry and literacy.
  3. Build partnerships with Australian Universities to support and develop Dentistry and Oral Health Therapy student’s clinical placements and community outreach experiences.

Sun Smiles Program

The Carevan Sun Smiles Program is a free multi-strategy, oral health promotion and decay prevention program. The Sun Smiles program incorporates strategies from the Department of Health’s ‘Action plan for oral health promotion 2013-2017’.

The program includes 5 key components which are integrated within the World Health Organisation’s Health Promoting Schools Framework:

  1. Oral health skills: Engaging children through oral health puppetry to provide health education and skills development, focused on twice daily toothbrushing with fluoride toothpaste.
  2. Oral health literacy: Engaging children and their families in early literacy activities focused on the benefits of fluoride for good oral health.
  3. Nutrition: Engaging children in healthy eating choices and encouraging children to drink fluoridated tap water.
  4. Fluoride varnish: Professionally applied Colgate Duraphat 5% sodium fluoride varnish undertaken within the school setting.
  5. Dental referral pathway: Dental screening and establishment of dental referral pathways to local Health District Dental Clinics, University Dental Clinics, Aboriginal Health Services and private dental practices.

Access to preventive dental care is a major issue.

Children from low socio-economic families, with rural and CALD backgrounds, are at greater risk of poor dental health behaviours and limited access to preventive oral healthcare. This places them at a higher risk of developing tooth decay and other oral health problems

Oral health promotion

Oral health education is a key component of the Sun Smiles program. A suite of powerpoint presentations have been developed, which are presented on the school’s interactive white boards. The presentations cover age specific oral health issues including:

  • Tooth decay.
  • Dental erosion.
  • Nutrition.
  • The benefits of using fluoride toothpaste and fluoride varnish to prevent tooth decay.

Innovative hands-on workshops have been developed to engage children in actively learning about oral health.

  • Fluorescent disclosing gels and UV torches are used by the children to teach about the association of dental plaque with tooth decay and gum disease.
  • Science experiments are used to demonstrate the effect of sugar and bacteria.

Children receive a Sun Smiles take home showbag which includes

  • Colgate fluoride toothpaste and Colgate children’s toothbrush, accessed from the South Pacific Child Oral Health Taskforce. This is endorsed by International guidelines for community based provision and use of fluoride toothpaste.
  • Colgate Bright Smiles Bright Futures brochures.
  • Plastic dental mirror (from dental screening)
  • Fluoride varnish homecare brochures.

Over half of 6 year old Australian children have tooth decay (AIHW 2015).

Children experience dental pain and infection which impacts on their physical growth and cognitive development and lowers their self-esteem. Research shows that poor oral health and toothache can put children at a serious disadvantage in school. Oral health problems are a significant factor in school absences. Toothache restricts a child’s participation at school and impacts on their academic performance, leading to lower school grades.

Many children require hospital admission for dental treatment under general anaesthesia caused by tooth decay. General anaesthesia carries a small but significant risk of mortality and places a large financial burden on the Australian hospital system.

Oral health literacy

Oral health literacy is emerging as an important determinant of health, as research shows poor oral health literacy is linked to poor oral health outcomes. While evidence is emerging regarding adult oral health literacy, limited resources are available regarding oral health literacy for children.

Children need to engage in learning about the benefits of fluoride with age appropriate, fun, visual literacy resources which are linked to the children’s cognitive ability level. The resources need to be shared within the child’s family environment to have a greater impact. Picture books provide one approach to support early oral health literacy for young children. ‘Who is the Tooth Fairy’s best friend?’ was written by Cathryn Carboon and illustrated, designed and produced by Brolly Books, Melbourne. The book was launched as part of the Sun Smiles program in October 2017.

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