According to a recent report issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, fewer individuals are receiving regular oral health care than they did in 2007.[1] It is clear that more needs to be done at all levels to educate the public about the importance of maintaining good oral health.

This should be a top concern — as oral disease left untreated can result in pain, disfigurement, loss of school and work days, nutrition problems, expensive emergency room use for preventable dental conditions and even death. In fact, illnesses related to oral health result in 6.1 million days of bed disability, 12.7 million days of restricted activity and 20.5 million lost workdays each year.[2]

Oral disease especially impacts children and the elderly. Tooth decay is the most common chronic illness among school-age youth, impacting roughly 1 in 4 children.[3] In 2012, almost 1 in 5 Americans age 65 and older had untreated cavities, and more than 40 percent had gum disease.[4]

The majority of oral health ailments can be avoided by increasing oral health literacy among all populations, with an emphasis on children to ensure they develop and maintain healthy habits into adulthood.

On April 24, 2015, AGD hosted ten allied organizations for an Oral Health Literacy Symposium, held at AGD Headquarters in Chicago. The objective of the symposium was to produce an interim consensus statement on oral health literacy. The participants achieved this objective and adopted the following statement:

Oral health literacy is an integral component of every individual’s health and well-being. The undersigned organizations recommend addressing this critical issue in accordance with the following principles:

Oral health literacy is the foundation of a lifetime of wellness and must be integrated into all educational and wellness programs.

Oral health literacy is a shared responsibility across all sectors.

Critical to the advancement of oral health literacy is an established dental home.

The dental profession will lead the advancement of oral health literacy, in collaboration with other health professionals.

Governmental and private resources dedicated to improving oral health should be strategically directed toward programs that further oral health literacy.

AGD's language on improving oral health literacy was adopted as a model resolution by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).     

AGD urges Congress to make oral health literacy a priority public health concern, leading to increased funding and other practical support for oral health literacy related education, research and interventions

AGD offers the following model for implementing an oral health literacy program in schools:

The purpose is to adopt and implement into the mandatory curricula of public schools a grade-specific educational program that informs, trains, and educates students about the importance of achieving and maintaining good oral health. The overall goal of the program is to reduce the burden of dental disease. It is intended to not only teach students about oral health, but also empower them to implement the information they have learned, producing measurable behavioral changes. 

The program curricula will be:

Based on state department education standards.

Incorporated into existing health and science curricula when possible.

Implemented in a graduated manner, beginning with early elementary curricula and reaching full implementation with high school curricula within a six-year period.

The state department of education department will have one year to develop appropriate curricula and/or select curricula from existing sources.

Initial integration into early elementary curricula shall begin no later than the fall 20XX semester, and integration into high school curricula shall begin no later than the fall 20XX+6 semester.

Those involved in making educational, curriculum or healthcare changes as well as appropriate dental experts and organizations may be invited to assist in the process.

AGD urges Congress to make oral health literacy a priority public health concern, leading to increased funding and other practical support for oral health literacy related education, research and interventions.

Additional resources:

Arkansas Oral Health Plan 2012–2015,” Arkansas Department of Health, Office of Oral Health

Smile Smarts Dental Health Curriculum," American Dental Association

Tooth Tutor: A Simplified Oral Health Curriculum for Pre-K to Grade 12,” The Washington State Department of Health

Additional Reading 

"Six Steps to Advance Oral Health Literacy"

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