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Report on America’s oral health highlights long-running issues and provides some solutions

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A follow-up detailed report on oral health in America provides, among other things, a road map to improved oral health. (Image: fizkes/Shutterstock)
Dental Tribune International

By Dental Tribune International

Tue. 18. January 2022

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., US: The issues causing a significant divide in the standard of care and general oral health among the American population are vast and sometimes highly complex. In a new study that has been described as the most in-depth look into the state of America’s oral health to date, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) looks at progress made in the last two decades and some of the new and old challenges the nation is confronted with.

Following up a report done 20 years ago titled Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General, this latest study titled Oral Health in America: Advances and Challenges, took three years to complete, involved more than 400 experts and was overseen by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR).

“This is an in-depth review of the scientific knowledge surrounding oral health that has accumulated over the last two decades,” said Dr Rena D’Souza, director of NIDCR. “It provides an important window into how many societal factors intersect to create advantages and disadvantages with respect to oral health, and, critically, overall health.”

The well-established connection between oral health and general health was a crucial focus of the report. Additionally, it looked into the new technological advancements and innovations in healthcare delivery that may provide new ways to create greater equity in oral health across communities.

“This is a very significant report,” said NIH Acting Director Dr Lawrence A. Tabak. “It is the most comprehensive assessment of oral health currently available in the United States and it shows, unequivocally, that oral health plays a central role in overall health. Yet millions of Americans still do not have access to routine and preventative oral care.”

Among the other findings were that healthy behaviours can have positive impacts on oral health and have social and economic determinants, that there is a relationship between oral and medical conditions and they often share common risk factors, and that substance misuse and mental health conditions have negative effects on oral health. Furthermore, group disparities in oral healthcare that were highlighted 20 years ago continue to persist today, and a significant effort is needed to address the issue. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic having arisen while the report was being written, the researchers incorporated a preliminary analysis regarding the disease and its impact on oral health, but noted that more research and insight are coming to light.

While it can be easy to only look at the problems, in the report, the authors made several recommendations on how to improve oral health in America—most notably the need to connect healthcare professionals who work across a wide range of disciplines—noting that there is also a need for a more diverse oral healthcare workforce. “Although there are challenges ahead, the report gives us a starting point and some clear goals that offer reasons to be hopeful, despite those challenges,” added Dr D’Souza. “It imagines a future, as I do, in which systemic inequities that affect oral health and access to care are more fully addressed, and one in which dental and medical professionals work together to provide integrated care for all.”

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