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Clin Geriatr Med. 1992 Aug;8(3):673-83.

Oral health and the quality of life.

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National Institute of Dental Research, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.


The study of the impact of oral diseases and conditions on individuals and societies has been slow to develop but has made major progress during the 1980s. Not only did improvements in understanding oral quality of life require developing and using more social and behavioral outcome measures, it required reassessing clinical indices. Reports on oral quality of life to date are often based on investigations that originally had other purposes; consequently there is inconsistent evidence about the associations among oral health, general health, and quality of life. In fact, in much of the cited literature the evidence is equivocal. Yet, in more recent research designed specifically to investigate quality of life (Meei-Shia Chen, PhD, personal communication, 1991), it is evident that orofacial conditions, diseases, and pain can be disruptive and can have considerable impacts at both the individual and societal levels in terms of reduction in normal activities; conversely, medical and social conditions can affect oral health. It is notable that across studies there is an incongruence between health care professional and patient assessments of quality of life--they view the issues differently. Although oral diseases are very prevalent, the early symptoms are often not severe, leading many individuals to disregard them, or if acknowledged, to define them as normal or unimportant. This may reflect a form of fatalism, i.e., their oral health is as good as could be expected. It is necessary to assess oral health and quality of life over time. Individuals indicating satisfaction or dissatisfaction with appearance, function, and self-esteem at one point in time are doing so against a framework of immediate or long-term expectations. In regard to specific procedures, such as surgery or dentures, it is necessary to know what the individual expects if the health care professional is to provide improvements in perceived and actual quality of life. Similarly, it is difficult to provide meaningful interpretation of self-assessed physical and social functioning and appearance against clinical measures, if the level of earlier dysfunction is not known. For example, in the case of full denture wearers, the evidence might be interpreted to suggest that these individuals have excellent oral quality of life. Without taking into account the extent of physical and social dysfunction and poor appearance prior to the dentures, and the consequent improvement against this base, it is impossible to evaluate and consequently improve quality of life. Understanding this process requires longitudinal studies.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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