Reshaping Oral Health

Achieving good oral health is essential for overall well-being. Tooth decay, gum disease, and other conditions can affect people’s quality of life, including their physical, mental, and social health. While there is a growing global recognition that a preventive approach to oral health is needed, a number of barriers still exist.

These include poor access to oral healthcare shaping oral health services, lack of awareness about the importance of a healthy mouth, and persistent, stark inequalities in oral health outcomes. To address these challenges, we need to reshape the way we think about and talk about oral health—and the people who have difficulty maintaining it.

The way we shape the issue will have a big impact on how we respond to it. For example, focusing on the three simple things—brushing, flossing and dental visits—reinforces the idea that these are all that’s required to keep your mouth healthy.

Instead, advocates need to use a more holistic approach that recognizes the connections between oral and physical health. In addition to highlighting the benefits of preventive measures, they should also explain how these efforts are part of a wider system of oral and public health, and help people visualize solutions that can bring these practices within reach.

We often hear about stories like that of Deamonte Driver and Kyle Willis, whose tooth decay led to serious health problems. Incorporating such narratives into communications can build awareness, deepen understanding, and drive change. However, these strategies are limited in their ability to address the root causes of oral health problems, which often are related to broader systems and social dynamics.

To better advocate for a more holistic approach to oral health, we need to create a new vocabulary. Using a “Keys to Oral Health” metaphor, we can communicate how access to the right oral health tools—fluoridated water, nutritious foods, and insurance that covers oral healthcare visits—is essential for people to maintain good oral health. Without all the keys, people will struggle to unlock the doors to good oral health, no matter how hard they try.

Getting into shape involves working out regularly at the gym, and so does your oral health. Incorporate crunchy snacks into your diet to provide a workout for your teeth and gums. These foods stimulate saliva production, help clean your teeth and fight cavities, and provide your body with important nutrients.

Similarly, regular oral cancer screenings are crucial for keeping your mouth healthy and fighting off early stage disease. These checks are a vital part of your oral health fitness routine, and can even save your life.