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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Maryland: New Report Says Health Literacy is Needed to Improve Americans’ Oral Health

A new report, “Improving America’s Oral Health Literacy,” published by the Delta Dental Institute and co-authored by Dr. Alice Horowitz, a research associate professor in the University of Maryland School of Public Health, calls on the need for health literacy to address oral health in the United States.  

Most Americans recognize the connection between oral health and overall health, but more than one in four adults have untreated tooth decay, signifying a discrepancy between patient beliefs and actual oral health outcomes. 

The report says that clinical care can be a relatively weak determinant of oral health, and social determinants – -like fluoride exposure and sugar intake — matter more. What’s more, language, culture and literacy can be barriers to accessing dental care and understanding health information. 

“An expanded approach that considers social determinants of oral health and dental outcomes must move past the traditional, individualistic model involving the dentist-patient dyad,” the report states.

The co-authors of the report suggest that strategies to change perceptions about the importance of oral health are needed at the local, state, regional and national levels for all population groups. A health literacy plan should be created, including health literacy training for the federal government, academic institutions educational organizations and health associations. 

Dr. Horowitz was instrumental in initiating the need to address health literacy in dentistry. She was one of the authors of the first National Institutes of Health (NIH) Program Announcement addressing health literacy, helped organize the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR)’s workshop on oral health literacy and co-authored the findings.

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