ADA Revises its Definition of 'Oral Health'

According to FDI Dental World Federation, the new definition of 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.”

For years, oral health has been defined as the absence of disease. Now, the American Dental Association (ADA) has adopted a new, more comprehensive definition.

The revision was initially proposed by the FDI Dental World Federation General Assembly. The FDI Dental World Federation is the principle representative body for more than one million dentists worldwide. The Federation works to develop health policy, educational opportunities, and works to advocate for dentists and patients globally.

According to FDI Dental World Federation, the new definition of 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.” Further, the definition also includes several attributes:

· Oral health is a fundamental component of health and physical and mental well-being. It exists along a continuum influenced by the values and attitudes of individuals and communities.

· Oral health reflects the physiological, social and psychological attributes that are essential to the quality of life.

· Oral health is influenced by the individual’s changing experiences, perceptions, expectations, and ability to adapt to circumstances.

More than 200 national dental organizations, including the ADA, have accepted and adopted the new definition of oral health. In an editorial published in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA), a change in the definition was hailed as an opportunity for the dental profession to reflect on what oral health encompasses. It was also viewed as a reason for the profession to examine the implications of the new definition in regard to clinical practice and oral health policy.

As the authors of the editorial said, “A definition was needed that included the full scope of health and wellbeing and, ultimately, one that could be agreed on by all. A common definition can bring stakeholders together to advocate for the importance of oral health; to influence and shape parameters of care, health policies, research, education, and reimbursement models; and to shape the future of our profession.”

Further, the authors wrote that the new definition echoes definitions already in use by the World Health Organization (WHO), moves dentistry from a treatment approach to providing preventative care and support for oral health, uses language already commonly used in healthcare, and raises awareness of the different aspects of oral health that are all embedded in the wider framework of overall good health.