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Spec Care Dentist. 2002 Jan-Feb;22(1):8-15.

Changing perceptions of oral health and its importance to general health: provider perceptions, public perceptions, policymaker perceptions.

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Department of Oral Diagnosis & Radiology, CWRU School of Dentistry, Cleveland, OH 44106-4905, USA.


The first ever Surgeon General's Report on Oral Health emphasizes that oral health is essential to the general health and well-being of all Americans, and that oral health can be achieved. But it will require that we think about and approach oral health activities in a different manner. If we desire to influence the mind-set of health care providers, the public, policymakers, and institutions, how do we get from what we know about the relationship of oral health and general health to integrating the notion into everyday actions? The Surgeon General's Report on Oral Health has elevated this issue to the forefront of health care and provided us with an extraordinary opportunity. The challenge: Lead with action and catalyze integration into multiple forums-public, private, and professional-and engage in activities that will change how oral health is perceived broadly. Ultimately, geriatric oral health and the health of all access-limited populations should benefit. To continue preserving the oral health of the millions of older individuals who now enjoy it and to ensure it for those who lack it will require change on multiple societal levels: the health care providers, the neighborhood, the community; Federal, state, and local governments; and the nation as a whole. It means addressing and overcoming multiple barriers to oral health care, which may include problems or disparities in: education, economics, the environment, cultural and social issues, and the health care system itself. To change perceptions, we must remove the barriers to care, educate the stakeholders who can influence or benefit from training programs, conduct broader, population-based research, build public and private partnerships, develop a stronger health care infrastructure, and expand initiatives that target specific risks for declining oral health. In addition to seeking new answers to these problems, it is imperative that we apply what we already know.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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