The Dental Profession's Response

The dental profession has acknowledged this Call to Action and has responded to the call for initiatives aimed at improving oral health literacy, reducing oral health care disparities, and improving the oral health of the nation.

This image shows various people engaging in activities using their teeth.

According to Gary Podschun, former Manager, Community Outreach and Cultural Competence for the ADA, the American Dental Association’s House of Delegates adopted a definition of oral health literacy in 2005. That definition was amended in 2006 to be consistent with the definitions proposed by the Institutes of Medicine (IOM) and the NIDCR’s Working Group on Functional Oral Health Literacy (2004) and currently reads as follows:

“The degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate oral health decisions.

Also, at the ADA’s House of Delegates meeting in 2006 the delegates adopted the following six oral health literacy-related resolutions:

  1. Res. 14H-2006: “The ADA recognizes that limited oral health literacy is a potential barrier to effective prevention, diagnosis and treatment of oral disease.”
  2. Res. 16H-2006: Directed the ADA’s Council on Access, Prevention and Inter-professional Relations (CAPIR) to work with the Council on Government Affairs and other appropriate ADA agencies to develop and implement an advocacy strategy, based on the 2006 School Health Policies and Programs Study (SHPPS) data, to increase the number of school districts requiring oral health education for K-12 students.
  3. Res. 17H-2006: Authorized the ADA President to appoint a three-year National Oral Health Literacy Advisory Committee (NOHLAC) of 12 national health literacy experts from dentistry, public health, literacy and other advocacy organizations.
  4. Res. 18H-2006: Directed the CAPIR to design and execute a comprehensive oral health literacy awareness and education strategy targeting the entire dental team. The NOHLAC is will provide recommendations for this plan.
  5. Res. 19H-2006: Instructed CDEL and other appropriate ADA agencies to encourage the development of undergraduate, graduate and continuing education programs to train dentists and allied dental team members to effectively communicate with patients with limited literacy skills.
  6. Res. 23H-2006: Requested ADA agencies to develop guidelines for the creation of educational products to meet the needs of patients with limited literacy skills, including the involvement of targeted audiences in materials development.

In adopting these resolutions the ADA has recognized the need to address the problem of health literacy and has embarked on a major initiative to help improve communication between patients and dental team members. The ADA’s Council on Access, Prevention and Inter-professional Relations (CAPIR), has assembled a 12-member National Oral Health Literacy Advisory Committee (NOHLAC) to advise the council on interventions and strategies designed to improve national oral health literacy.

The ADA updated the status of these resolutions in August of 200825 and reported the following:

NOLAC recommendations:

  • That the ADA have a formal policy acknowledging the importance of communication skills
  • Develop a 3 to 5-year strategic communication plan
  • Urge the Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations (JCNDE) to include assessment of communication skills in national board examinations
  • Encourage the ADA’s Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) to include health literacy and communication skills Standards for Pre-doctoral Dental Education and Standards for Allied Dental Education Programs
  • Suggest ADEA and ASDA have health literacy sessions at annual meetings
  • Explore including communication skills as an admission criterion
  • ADA add health literacy to its research agenda
  • Urge NIDCR to expand its health literacy research funding through the NIH multi-Institute health literacy program announcement

In addition, NOHLAC discussed the 2008 ADA Survey of Dental Team Members that was conducted to determine knowledge, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors related to health literacy. The Committee identified the following study objectives:

  1. Evaluate the knowledge base of the dental community about oral health literacy.
  2. Verify the beliefs of dental members related to oral health literacy, including patients with limited oral health literacy.
  3. Evaluate attitudes and motivation of the dental community to learn about, measure and address oral health literacy.
  4. Identify practical methods employed by the dental team to minimize barriers related to limited oral health literacy.
  5. Gather data and information that can be used by the ADA to recommend and develop policies, programs and research to address oral health literacy.

You can read the article, Dentist-patient communication techniques used in the United States: The results of a national survey, that was published by the ADA subsequent to completing the national survey at:

The ADA is making a concerted effort to become the trusted oral health resource for the public. One way in which they are doing this is by working to raise awareness through collaboration. Three examples:

  2. Ad Council public service campaign

Sharecare is an online resource launched by Dr. Oz and Jeff Arnold of WebMD. Health professionals answer questions asked by the public online. Oral health is one of the 48 topics covered on the site. Nearly 300 ADA active licensed member dentists have answered questions as individual oral health experts on the site (i.e., they do not represent the ADA when they answer questions).

In 2010, the ADA also convened the first National Roundtable for Dental Collaboration. This effort has led to the formation of a new coalition: the Partnership for Healthy Mouths, Healthy Lives with an alliance of 34 oral health organizations. They will launch a national public service campaign in the summer of 2012 worth $100 million. The goal of the campaign is to reduce the risk of oral diseases in children through prevention.

A new consumer website,, was launched by the ADA in June, 2012 and will feature dental symptom checker, life stage content, and nutritional information. These initiatives represent the ADA’s commitment to improving health literacy of the public and the communication skills of the profession.

Other professional dental groups have also committed time and resources to the issue of oral health and oral health literacy. Symposia and presentations related to oral health literacy have been included at conferences such as: National Oral Health Conference (NOHC),American Association of Public Health Dentistry’s (AAPHD), American Public Health Association (APHA), American Association of Dental Research (AADR), International Association of Dental Research (IADR), and at the ADA’s annual meeting.