The great and enduring strength of American democracy lies in its commitment to the care and well-being of its citizens. The nation’s long-term investment in science and technology has paid off in ever-expanding ways to promote health and prevent disease. We can be proud that these advances have added years to the average life span and enhanced the quality of life. But an “average” is necessarily derived from all values along a continuum and it is here that we come to recognize gaps in health and well-being. Not all Americans are benefiting equally from improvements in health and health care. America’s continued growth in diversity has resulted in a society with broad educational, cultural, language, and economic differences that hinder the ability of some individuals and groups from realizing the gains in health enjoyed by many. These health disparities were highlighted in the year 2000 Surgeon General’s report: Oral Health in America where it was reported that no less than a “silent epidemic of oral diseases is affecting our most vulnerable citizens—poor children, the elderly, and many members of racial and ethnic minority groups.” The report also highlighted the disabling oral and craniofacial aspects of birth defects.
The report was a wake-up call, raising a powerful voice against the silence. It called upon policymakers, community leaders, private industry, health professionals, the media, and the public to affirm that oral health is essential to general health and well-being and to take action. No one should suffer from oral diseases or conditions that can be effectively prevented and treated. No schoolchild should suffer the stigma of craniofacial birth defects nor be found unable to concentrate because of the pain of untreated oral infections. No rural inhabitant, no homebound adult, no inner city dweller should experience poor oral health because of barriers to access to care and shortages of resources and personnel.
Now that call to action has been taken up. Under a broad coalition of public and private organizations and individuals, orchestrated by the principals who led the development of the National Call To Action To Promote Oral Health has been generated. We applaud the efforts of these partners to heed the voices of their fellow Americans. At regional meetings across the country concerned citizens addressed the critical need to resolve inequities in oral health affecting their communities. More than that, ideas and programs were described to explain what groups at local, state or regional levels were doing or could do to resolve the issues.
Combining this store of knowledge and experience with private and public plans and programs already under way has enabled the partnership to extract the set of five principal actions and implementation strategies that constitute the National Call To Action To Promote Oral Health. These actions crystallize the necessary and sufficient tasks to be undertaken to assure that all Americans can achieve optimal oral health. It is abundantly clear that these are not tasks that can be accomplished by any single agency, be it the Federal government, state health agencies, or private organizations. Rather, just as the actions have been developed through a process of collaboration and communication across public and private domains, their successful execution calls for partnerships that unite private and public groups focused on common goals. The seeds for such future collaborative efforts have already been sown by all those who participated in the development of this Call To Action. We appreciate their dedication and take it as our mutual responsibility to further partnership activities and monitor their impact on the health of the public. We are confident that sizable rewards in health and well-being can accrue for all Americans as these actions are implemented.
Richard H. Carmona, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.C.S.
Surgeon General and Acting Assistant Secretary for Health
National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (US), Rockville (MD)
Office of the Surgeon General (US). National Call To Action To Promote Oral Health. Rockville (MD): National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (US); 2003. Preface from the Surgeon General.