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News Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Contact: HHS Press Office
(202) 690-6343

NATIONAL STRATEGY SEEKS TO IMPROVE AMERICA'S ORAL HEALTH

The Department of Health and Human Services today released a National Call to Action to Promote Oral Health aimed at improving oral health and preventing disease for all Americans.

"This action strategy serves as a model of how the nation's health can be improved when we work together to achieve common goals," HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said. "Oral health is integral to overall health. It's critical that we all work together to improve the nation's oral health, especially among children."

Surgeon General Richard Carmona released the report at the 2003 National Oral Health Conference in Milwaukee.

Many Americans suffer from poor oral health. For example, 22 percent of adults reported some form of oral-facial pain in the past six months. Pain is a common symptom of craniofacial disorders and interferes with vital functions such as eating, swallowing and speech. Among children, dental caries (tooth decay) is the single most common chronic childhood disease. Oral and pharyngeal cancers, which are primarily diagnosed in the elderly, are diagnosed in about 30,000 Americans annually and 8,000 die from this disease each year.

Oral diseases and disorders are progressive and cumulative and become more complex over time. If current trends persist, millions of Americans will needlessly lose teeth, endure pain, and develop oral infections that can contribute to worsened chronic diseases, compromising their overall health and well being.

"The prevention message we've been emphasizing all over America is as applicable for ensuring oral health as it is for avoiding other chronic conditions," Surgeon General Carmona said. "American students miss millions of hours of school and adults miss millions of hours of work each year due to dental disease or visits. By improving our nation's oral health, we improve our nation's overall health."

Nationally, children lose more than 51 million school hours and adults lose more than 164 million work hours each year due to dental disease or dental visits. The nation's total bill for dental services was estimated to be $70.1 billion in 2002 and this figure does not take include indirect expenses of oral health problems or the cost of services by other health care providers.

The National Call to Action marks the latest in an ongoing effort to address the country's oral health needs in the new century. The National Call to Action builds on Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General (May 2000) and the Healthy People 2010 oral health objectives. The new plan seeks to expand these efforts by enlisting the expertise of individuals, health care providers, communities, and policymakers at all levels of society.

The National Call to Action identifies five action areas:

  • Change perceptions of oral health care;
  • Overcome barriers to care by replicating effective programs and proven efforts;
  • Build the science base and accelerate science transfer;
  • Increase oral health workforce diversity, capacity and flexibility; and
  • Increase collaboration.

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Last Revised: April 29, 2003