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Surgeon General Priority: Oral Health

Oral health is essential to the general health and well-being of all Americans, and it is a window into the health of the body. Oral health can show signs of nutritional deficiencies or general infection, and diseases that affect the entire body can first become apparent because of oral problems.

Many Americans who have the biggest obstacles to getting dental care continue to experience unnecessary pain and complications from poor oral health. The burden of oral disease restricts activities in school, work, and home and often significantly diminishes quality of life. Those who suffer the worst oral health are found among the poor of all ages, with poor children and poor older Americans particularly vulnerable. Members of racial and ethnic minority groups also experience a disproportionate level of oral health problems. Individuals who are medically compromised or who have disabilities are at greater risk for oral diseases and, in turn, oral diseases further jeopardize their health.

Poor oral health also impacts our nation's ability to recruit young adults for military service and maintain military readiness. “Historically, dental readiness was the most problematic Department of Defense individual medical readiness requirement,” according to Army Col. James Honey, chief of TRICARE dental care section. In addition, rough conditions in deployment areas can affect the body’s ability to respond to health issues, especially dental problems.

The Office of the Surgeon General has published reports on oral health. The first report on oral health, published in 2000, addressed individual and environmental factors for oral health and disease. The report outlines existing safe and effective disease prevention measures that everyone can adopt to improve oral health and prevent disease.

Twenty years later, the knowledge gained from science and technology continues to provide a better understanding of the etiology and natural history of oral and craniofacial diseases and conditions. The Surgeon General has commissioned an update to the report that will document the progress in oral health, identify existing knowledge gaps, and articulate a public health vision for the future, with an emphasis on the:

  • Critical nature of poor oral health as a public health issue
  • Need to increase awareness of the importance of oral health to overall health and well-being
  • Promise of science to transform the oral health of the nation
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