Oral health is integral to overall health. The first Surgeon General’s Report on Oral Health was published in 2000. Its purpose was to “alert Americans to the full meaning of oral health and its importance to general health and well-being.” Yet nearly 15 years after the Surgeon General addressed concerns about a “silent epidemic” of untreated oral disease in the United States, much remains to be done to ensure good oral health across the nation.
Untreated oral health problems in children may result in attention deficits, trouble in school, and problems sleeping and eating. For adults, poor oral health may contribute to difficulty obtaining a job and forming relationships. Employed adults lose more than 164 million hours of work each year due to dental disease and dental visits, and in 2009 over 830,000 emergency room visits were the result of preventable dental conditions. Poor oral health is also associated with a number of other diseases, including diabetes, stroke and respiratory disease. The burden of oral disease is unequally distributed, with minorities and low-income people significantly more likely to report oral health problems. In older adults, poor oral health is significantly associated with disability and reduction in mobility.
This brief outlines current concerns for oral health and explores policy options to increase access to oral health care and improve health by expanding the oral health workforce. It is designed to help policy-makers, public health professionals and community members translate proven public health science into public health law and community practice at every level of government.