As a child, I grew up watching Sesame Street — a timeless treasure that has been on PBS for over 50 years. I am moved to see that PBS programming continues to enrich the lives of children and includes educational content on oral health and wellness. Knowledge, after all, is power when it comes to good oral health.
As we recognize National Children's Dental Health Month this February, a national health observance to promote the benefits of good oral health to children, their caregivers, teachers, and many others, I am mindful that this knowledge goes beyond one’s ability to read a pamphlet and successfully make (and keep) a dental appointment.
Learning good oral health habits early in life, like brushing, flossing, and eating healthy low sugar foods, is associated with better oral health outcomes — but young people in underserved communities are not always exposed to oral health-focused education.
What is Oral Health Literacy?
Oral health literacy is “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate oral health decisions,” according to the American Dental Association.
In an effort to elevate Americans' understanding of oral health, Delta Dental Institute, where I serve as Executive Director, published research examining how health literacy contributes to patients making informed decisions about their oral health, dental services, and dental insurance.
Dental insurance, for example, differs significantly from health insurance, and that difference leads to confusion for many patients.
What Medical and Dental Insurance Claims Data Shows
We know low health literacy is associated with poorer health outcomes and lower-than-average use of healthcare services. And we have the data to prove it.
An analysis of medical and dental insurance claim data published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found simple, noninvasive periodontal therapy may improve health outcomes during pregnancy. (There is credible evidence linking periodontal disease to spontaneous preterm birth). In other words, the data shows more preventive dental cleanings are associated with positive overall health and a reduced risk of preterm birth.
Investing in Community Programs and Research to Promote Oral Health Literacy for Years to Come
In 2021, Delta Dental companies helped over 10 million people across the country with oral health knowledge through various community partnerships and programs. The programs meet people – including children – where they are in elementary schools, children’s and science museums, health clinics, hospitals, or even their own homes through a partnership with PBS.
In that same year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Oral Health Literacy and Awareness Act of 2021, which would authorize a national public education campaign to increase oral health literacy and awareness – a promising momentum for oral health literacy to remain a national priority for years to come.
While oral health has long been our focus, Delta Dental’s mission extends far beyond that. We are improving the overall health and wellness of our communities so they can be strong, vibrant, and resilient. And we’re promoting health literacy to improve oral health and overall health for the communities we serve across the country.
We will continue to partner with Delta Dental companies, research partners, providers, and other stakeholders to coordinate efforts, improve health outcomes, and keep the spotlight on oral health literacy.
About Delta Dental Institute
The Delta Dental Institute is dedicated to advancing oral health for all Americans in partnership with Delta Dental companies and dedicated partners across the country. With expertise rooted in Delta Dental's rich history of oral health leadership, we engage in and support oral health research, community outreach, and advocacy, striving to ensure that everyone understands the importance of oral health to overall health and has access to the care they need.