ADA commends NIH report, Oral Health in America: Advances and Challenges

Comprehensive report outlines key findings, call to action to improve nation's oral health

Good oral health is important for the overall health and well-being of individuals of all ages, their families, communities and the nation, according to a newly released report from the National Institutes of Health.

That was among the key findings of Oral Health in America: Advances and Challenges, a wide-ranging report that provides a “comprehensive picture of the state of oral health in America,” according to Rena D’Souza, D.D.S., Ph.D., NIH National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research director, during a Dec. 21 webcast announcement on the release of the report.

“And while progress has been made in some areas over the last 20 years, much work remains,” Dr. D’Souza said.

The ADA commended the federal agencies that worked on the report, which was produced by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research of the National Institutes of Health.

“Oral health is an integral part of overall health, and dentists are leading the way in scientific advancements and clinical treatments that help improve patient health,” said ADA President Cesar R. Sabates, D.D.S. “I am excited to see the progress that has been made and to work in an interdisciplinary fashion to address the challenges that remain, particularly when it comes to improving public health.”

Among the key findings of the 790-page report include:

  • Through research and policy changes over the past 20 years, substantial advances have been made in the understanding and treatment of oral diseases and conditions, yet many people of all ages and demographic backgrounds still have chronic oral health problems and lack access to care.
  • Healthy behaviors can improve and maintain individuals’ oral health; these behaviors are shaped by social and economic conditions in which people are born, grow, work and live.
  • Oral and medical conditions often share common risk factors, and just as medical conditions and their treatments can influence oral health, so can oral conditions and their treatments affect other health issues.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged the nation’s health care system, including oral health providers. With those challenges came new ways of ensuring safety during provision of dental care, of treating disease, and recognizing that oral health cannot be separated from overall health.

The report also included several calls to action to help improve the nation’s oral health, such as policy changes to help reduce or eliminate social, economic and other systemic inequities that affect oral health behaviors and access to care; and strengthening the oral health workforce by diversifying the composition of the nation’s oral health professionals.

“And now we need the broad oral health community to translate this knowledge into action in improving the future of oral health for all," said Bruce Dye, D.D.S., scientific editor and co-director of the report and associate editor of The Journal of the American Dental Association, during the webcast. "The most important story to take away from this report is that good oral health for all is within reach.”

The 2021 report is a follow up to the seminal report on the nation's oral health that Surgeon General David Satcher released two decades ago.

“That original report, which was considered a milestone in public health, firmly established oral health as being intrinsically linked to overall health and well-being,” said Dr. D’Souza.

Dr. Sabates noted that he was proud of the ADA experts who were directly involved in the report, including the ADA’s Health Policy Institute and the ADA Science & Research Institute, which offered notable contributions of vital data and oral health research. In addition, Dr. Sabates said the ADA looks forward to reviewing the full report in depth to identify opportunities for the future.

“The ADA remains committed to advancing research, education, practice resources and advocacy on behalf of dentists and the public to continue to improve oral health in the U.S.,” Dr. Sabates said.

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