Do you remember brushing your teeth in school with your schoolmates?

If you were born in the 1970s or 1980s, you’d probably have memories of squatting side by side with your schoolmates over the school longkang (drain) and brushing your teeth in the morning before class or after recess.

For those not in the know, in the 1960s, dental hygiene standards were poor in Singapore.

This was evidenced in the teeth of national service enlistees. It was also reported that half of the population did not know how to brush their teeth properly and half of all schoolchildren did not own toothbrushes.

For those who did own toothbrushes, they were not brushing regularly or correctly.

Teeth brushing exercise

To instill good dental hygiene habits among the population, the dental branch of the Ministry of Health then launched the “Open Wide, Brush Inside” campaign in 1969.

The teeth brushing exercise aimed to inculcate the habit of good dental hygiene in the general population, particularly school children, by teaching them the proper way of brushing their teeth and encouraging them to do it regularly.

As part of the toothbrushing exercise, each child was supplied with a toothbrush and plastic mug, at a fee of 25 cents per set, which looked like this:

Some 2,680 teachers also had to go through training from the Dental Health Education Unit, established in 1968 by the MOH, so that they can teach the students the proper toothbrushing techniques and supervise the toothbrushing drills correctly.

By the end of 1969, a total of 367,735 children from 439 primary schools had participated in the toothbrushing drills, with an estimated 1.5 million toothbrushes sold by 1970.

Singapore also became the first country in the region at the time to carry out instruction in toothbrushing on such a massive scale.