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Oral Health Care: A Whole New Language

Course Number: 21

Oral Health Care

In 2002, United States Surgeon General David Sacher released the first ever Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines oral health as a state of being free from chronic mouth and facial pain, oral and throat cancer, oral sores, birth defects such as cleft lip and palate, periodontal (gum) disease, tooth decay and tooth loss, and other diseases and disorders that affect the oral cavity. Oral health refers to much more than teeth.

Oral disease can range from mild gingivitis to life-threatening oral cancer with many diseases in between. Oral disease research is showing a relationship between oral disease and conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and pre-term, low birth weight infants.

The most common forms of oral diseases are gum diseases (gingivitis or periodontitis) and dental caries (cavities). Other oral conditions include infections caused by bacteria, viruses and fungi; congenital defects such as cleft lip and palate; and manifestations of systemic diseases.

Sadly, even when there is good oral health care available, most people do not always consider oral disease an important problem. Many people are unaware that a “simple” problem in the mouth can lead to advanced, life-threatening infections that in rare instances can cause death. The article For Want of a Dentist describes the death, from complications of a tooth abscess, of Deamonte Driver.11

Some of the terms that a person new to oral health care needs to know include:

  • Licensure is the process by which a government agency, through statutes promulgated (made into law) by the legislature of the state, grants the individual the right to practice in its jurisdiction based on meeting predetermined standards and minimal qualifications.

  • Certification, on the other hand, is the process by which an agency or organization grants formal recognition to an individual for accomplishments such as completion of a specified amount of training or coursework, acceptable performance on an examination, or graduation from a formal program.

  • Have you ever wondered why dentists, physicians, dental hygienists, nurses and other health care providers “practice?” Practice means the performance of the duties and responsibilities of a health care profession; one is engaged in performing a professional discipline.

  • Accreditation is the process whereby an educational program is evaluated to determine compliance with national established standards. An accredited program has been voluntarily examined by a non-governmental agency and it has been determined that the program or institution has met standards and is continuing to maintain those standards. Accreditation assures that graduates have received a quality education and they are competent for entry into a profession or career. The accrediting body for dental and dental-related education programs is the Commission on Dental Accreditation of the American Dental Association.2