For this reason, I’m going to be discussing oral health, including how we define it, it’s place in our general health, and we maintain it over the course of this week.
Today, I’m talking about defining oral health.
In the United States, the Surgeon General has defined oral health as: “Being free of chronic oral-facial pain conditions, oral and pharyngeal (throat) cancers, oral soft tissue lesions, birth defects such as cleft lip and palate, and other diseases and disorders affecting oral, dental, and craniofacial tissues.”
These tissues, whose functions we often take for granted, represent the very essence of our humanity.
They allow us to speak and smile; sigh and kiss; smell, taste, touch, chew, swallow, cry and convey emotions through facial expressions. They also provide protection against infection.
The craniofacial tissues also provide a useful means to understanding organs and systems in less accessible parts of the body. A thorough oral examination can detect signs of nutritional deficiencies as well as a number of systemic diseases, including microbial infections, immune disorders, injuries, and cancer.
The phrase the ‘mouth is a mirror’ has been used to illustrate the wealth of information which can be derived from examining oral tissue.
On-going research has found connections between chronic oral infections and heart and lung diseases, stroke, low-birth-weight and premature births. Periodontal disease is also associated with diabetes.
As long ago as 1948 the World Health Organization expanded the definition of health to mean “a complete state of physical, mental, and social well-being, and not just the absence of infirmity.”
It follows that oral health must also include well-being; just as we now understand that nature and nurture are inextricably linked, and mind and body are both expressions of our human biology, so, too, we must recognize that oral health and general health are inseparable.
Ignoring signs and symptoms in the mouth will always be to our detriment.
Image courtesyof: Luigi Diamanti