White Paper Tackles Oral Health Literacy in the United States

Dentistry Today


Dentists know exactly what patients need to do to take better care of their teeth. But do patients themselves know what to do? The Delta Dental Institute explores the state of health literacy in the United States and its impact on oral and overall health outcomes in its latest white paper, “Improving America’s Oral Health Literacy.”

“Knowledge is power when it comes to good oral health,” said Vivian Vasallo, executive director of the Delta Dental Institute. “This paper affirms the link between high health literacy and good health outcomes and provides an important roadmap for how dental health professionals, insurers, employers, and brokers can better empower Americans with the information they need to make more informed oral health decisions.”  

While most Americans recognize the connection between oral health and overall health, a discrepancy in outcomes remains, due in part to low levels of health literacy and inadequate consideration of social determinants of health, according to the paper.

For example, low health literacy is associated with poorer health outcomes and lower than average use of healthcare services. Conversely, high levels of oral health literacy facilitate effective dentist-patient communication, which has a direct positive impact on preventive, diagnostic, and restorative oral health services.

The paper also explores the current state of medical-dental integration and emerging solutions that would benefit patients, especially those with chronic diseases. It further identifies three actionable recommendations for improving oral health literacy in the United States. 

  • Developing dental health literacy training modules
  • Adapting the after-visit summary for use in dentistry
  • Providing plain-language clinical and dental insurance educational information to all patients

The paper was commissioned by the Delta Dental Institute and coauthored by Kathryn A. Atchison, DDS, MPH, of the UCLA School of Dentistry; Alice M. Horowitz, PhD, of the University of Maryland School of Public Health; and Nicole D. Holland, DDS, MS, of the Tufts School of Dental Medicine.

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