Report at a Glance
Providing New Leadership and Direction in Oral Health
In the past, HHS has suffered from a lack of high-level accountability, coordination among its own agencies, resources, and sustained interest in oral health. In 2010, however, HHS launched an Oral Health Initiative—a cross-agency effort to improve oral health care nationwide. Echoing the 2000 surgeon general’s report, the initiative conveys the message that oral health is integral to overall health.
To augment the recent efforts by HHS, the IOM committee recommended several approaches that HHS could take to help improve the oral health of the nation. The committee calls this set of recommendations the New Oral Health Initiative (NOHI), to distinguish it from and build upon the current initiative. In addition, the committee developed a set of organizing principles based on the areas in greatest need of attention as well as approaches that have the most potential for creating improvements.
To guide and evaluate the NOHI, the committee suggests that HHS use the goals of Healthy People 2020—an existing set of benchmarks for achieving better health for the country—rather than creating new goals that would be redundant. The committee stresses three key areas needed for successfully maintaining oral health as a priority issue: strong leadership, sustained interest, and the involvement of multiple stakeholders.
The committee’s report, Advancing Oral Health in America, is not meant to redesign the oral health care system but instead to highlight the vital role that HHS can play in improving oral health and oral health care in the United States. NOHI can succeed if it has clearly articulated goals, is coordinated effectively and adequately funded, and has high-level accountability. HHS needs to have consistent messages for patients and health care professionals about the importance of oral health, but it is as critical for the department to have consistent messaging within its own organization that oral health is a priority. HHS has the opportunity and responsibility to bring together different sectors to effect change in oral health care. There are many reasons that HHS should seize this opportunity. However, most important is that in spite of improvement, the American people continue to suffer, often silently, from avoidable and treatable oral diseases.