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  • Review the importance of dental health through the life course.

  • Describe the epidemiology of dental disease in vulnerable populations.

  • Identify interventions to assure dental health in underserved communities.

  • Discuss the importance of interprofessional education.


The preservation of complete natural dentition is critical at all ages. In children, the prevention of early cavities is not only important for the healthy development of permanent teeth but also contributes to overall development and quality of life. The loss of teeth can bring negative social stigma, especially when tooth loss occurs at a young age. In addition to the social isolation and psychological pain that these problems can bring, general health may suffer as well.

People with poor dental health may have increased difficulty speaking, chewing, and swallowing, and in extreme cases, nutrition may be compromised. In patients with partial or complete dentures, chewing is difficult and in no way compares with natural dentition. Poor dentition also may lead to recurrent systemic infections such as pneumonia or endocarditis. Other conditions, such as worsening diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and preterm birth, may be exacerbated or increased by poor dental health (Box 41-1).

Box 41-1. Major Findings of the Surgeon General’s Report on Oral Health

  • Oral diseases and disorders in and of themselves affect health and well-being throughout life.

  • Safe and effective measures exist to prevent the most common dental diseases, dental caries, and periodontal diseases.

  • Lifestyle behaviors that affect general health, such as tobacco use, excessive alcohol use, and poor dietary choices, affect oral and craniofacial health as well.

  • There are profound and consequential oral health disparities within the US population.

  • More information is needed to improve America’s oral health and eliminate health disparities.

  • The mouth reflects general health and well-being.

  • Oral diseases and conditions are associated with other health problems.

  • Scientific research is key to further reduction in the burden of diseases and disorders that affect the face, mouth, and teeth.

Source: From US Department of Health and Human Services. Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, MD: US Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, National Institutes of Health, 2000.

Factors influencing an individual’s oral health begin before birth, with the oral and overall health of the mother; these influences persist throughout childhood and into adulthood. Thus, when assessing risk, one must consider the health of the child within the context of individual, family, and community influences (Figure 41-1). We all have intrinsic characteristics, but children are greatly influenced by the families into which they were born. These families exist within communities, which exert both positive and negative social norms and physical options. These communities also are impelled by state and national policies. For children particularly, the passage of time can have great impact on their disease (or health) state and their ...

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