Oral health has always been somewhat loosely defined as the absence of disease—a concise definition, but one that failed to acknowledge the complexity of what goes into a healthy smile. Dental health professionals and policy makers have long expressed the need for a more robust definition.
At its annual congress in September, the World Dental Federation (FDI) met that need by establishing a new, comprehensive definition of oral health, which goes something like this:
Oral health is multi-faceted and includes the ability to speak, smile, smell, taste, touch, chew, swallow and convey a range of emotions through facial expressions with confidence and without pain, discomfort and disease of the craniofacial complex.
Why does this matter? According to FDI President Dr. Patrick Hescot, “the new definition will allow [the FDI] to develop standardized assessment and measurement tools for consistent data collection on a global level.”
FDI members include 200 national dental associations representing over 1 million dentists worldwide. Next step for 2017: “a measurement toolbox…to allow for assessment of individual and population needs that can inform and drive oral health policies.”
Many dentists in the U.S. already have their own comprehensive definition of oral health that helps inform patient treatment. Perhaps they draw inspiration from the American Dental Association’s definition, adopted in 2014:
Oral health is a functional, structural, aesthetic, physiologic and psychosocial state of well-being and is essential to an individual’s general health and quality of life.
But this new, more detailed “official” definition may help American dentists think about treatment more broadly as they contemplate how to provide the best patient care.