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A National Call to Action to Promote Oral Health

Adult Oral Health

June 2003—A National Call to Action to Promote Oral Health marks the latest in an ongoing effort to address the country's oral health needs in the 21st century. Reflecting the work of a partnership of public and private organizations, the Call to Action builds on Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General (May 2000) and the Healthy People 2010 focus area on Oral Health. The Call to Action seeks to expand on these efforts by enlisting the expertise of individuals, health researchers and care providers, communities, and policymakers at all levels of society.

The goals of the Call to Action are to

  • Promote oral health,
  • Improve quality of life, and
  • Eliminate oral health disparities.

The Call to Action invites groups to expand plans, activities, and programs designed to promote oral health and prevent disease for all. In addition, special efforts should be made to reduce the health disparities that affect members of certain racial and ethnic groups and people who are poor, geographically isolated, or vulnerable because of special oral health care needs. The actions taken to achieve these goals are to be science-based, culturally sensitive, and routinely evaluated. Furthermore, the Call to Action urges that these emerging oral health plans and activities should be designed with the intent of integrating them into plans for enhancing general health and well-being.

The Call to Action specifies five specific actions, each of which has an implementation strategy.

Action 1. Change perceptions of oral health.

Americans should understand that oral health is essential to general health and well-being. In addition, their oral health literacy should be enhanced so that they can make informed health-related decisions. Groups to be targeted with educational messages include the general public, health providers, and public policymakers.

Action 2. Overcome barriers by replicating effective programs and proven efforts.

Safe and effective oral disease prevention methods are known but these have not been applied as widely as possible. Community-based health promotion and disease prevention programs should be expanded, and additional outreach and community service activities are needed to close gaps in access to care. Concerted efforts are needed to overcome barriers in access to care caused by geographic isolation, poverty, insufficient education, and lack of language skills. Inadequate reimbursements for care in some public and private programs should be addressed to encourage additional provider participation.

Action 3. Build the science base and accelerate science transfer.

Biomedical and behavioral research provides the foundation for an evolving health care practice that includes prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of oral diseases. Future research should address gaps in applied science and science transfer. Applied research including clinical and population-based studies, demonstration projects, and health services research should be enhanced to improve oral health and prevent disease. In addition, the effective transfer of science into public health and private practice should be accelerated.

Action 4. Increase oral health workforce diversity, capacity, and flexibility.

Multiple strategies are needed to attract members of under represented racial and ethnic groups to careers in oral health, to ensure availability of sufficient numbers of practitioners, educators, and researchers to meet present and future patient and community needs. Oral health workforce capacity also should be enhanced in health care shortage areas and in public health programs. Strategies should address ways to permit optimal flexibility in employment of the oral health workforce to maximize effectiveness.

Action 5. Increase collaborations.

The private and public sectors each have unique characteristics and strengths. Linking the two can result in a creative synergy capitalizing on the talent and resources of each partner. A sustained effort is needed to build the nation's oral health infrastructure to ensure that all sectors of society—the public, private practitioners, and federal and state government personnel—have sufficient knowledge, expertise, and resources to design, implement, and monitor oral health programs.

The Call to Action reflects the work of a Partnership Network of more than 90 public and private national organizations who responded to an open invitation from the Office of the Surgeon General, as well as information received during five regional listening sessions and from other public and scientific comments. It provides the basis for integrating efforts of future members of the Network and for fostering public-private partnerships across the nation. The federal government's continued involvement in the Network is anticipated but other members will increasingly assume leadership of the action agenda as communication and collaboration expands. The Network will serve as a forum to measure progress in implementing this Call to Action.

A National Call to Action to Promote Oral Health was released by former Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona on April 29, during the 2003 National Oral Health Conference held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Call To Action to Promote Oral Health is available at

Related Information

CDC works with states to provide technical assistance to help them develop state-specific action plans. CDC also provides support to state public health programs designed to enhance state infrastructure, leadership, and surveillance, as well as develop and evaluate programs to prevent oral diseases. See Infrastructure Development Tools and State Oral Health Plans for more information.

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