On September 6, 2016, a new definition of oral health was overwhelmingly approved by the FDI World Dental Federation’s General Assembly. This was a key part of the organization’s advocacy and strategic plan–Vision 2020 . The definition, together with a companion framework, creates an opportunity for the profession to reflect on what oral health encompasses and what the implications are of this definition for clinical practice and oral health policy. But why was a new definition needed?
While oral health has been recognized for millennia to be an essential component of overall health and wellbeing, it has not been clear if oral health has meant the same thing for different components of our profession and for our stakeholders. And if we are uncertain as a profession what we mean, how can we explain ourselves clearly to our patients, other health care professionals, policy makers and those others we seek to collaborate with and inform? A common definition can bring stakeholders together to advocate for the importance of oral health; to influence and shape parameters of care, health policies, research, education and reimbursement models; and to shape the future of our profession. During the creation of FDI’s Vision 2020 it became evident that there was a need for a universally accepted definition of oral health, one that conveys that oral health is a fundamental human right and that facilitates the inclusion of oral health in all policies. To accomplish this, the FDI charged a newly created Think Tank with producing such a definition.
A definition was needed that included the full scope of health and wellbeing, and ultimately one that could be agreed upon by all. Traditionally, oral health has been defined as the absence of disease. This definition fails to account for an individual’s values, perceptions and expectations. Furthermore, existing definitions of oral health mostly lack a theoretical framework that can be used to address all of the domains and elements that are part of oral health. The new definition acknowledges the multifaceted nature and attributes of oral health ( Box 1 and Box 2 ). Alongside the proposed concise definition, a companion framework was developed to describe the complex interactions between the three core elements of oral health (disease and condition status, physiological function and psycho-social function), a range of driving determinants (elements which influence and determine oral health), moderating factors (factors which determine or affect how an individual scores their oral health) and, finally, overall health and well-being (Figure).
Oral health is multi-faceted and includes the ability to speak, smile, smell, taste, touch, chew, swallow and convey a range of emotions through facial expressions with confidence and without pain, discomfort and disease of the craniofacial complex.
Further attributes of oral health:
is a fundamental component of health and physical and mental wellbeing. It exists along a continuum influenced by the values and attitudes of individuals and communities;
reflects the physiological, social and psychological attributes that are essential to the quality of life;
is influenced by the individual’s changing experiences, perceptions, expectations and ability to adapt to circumstances.