When you think of the term “oral health,” you probably consider your teeth, gums and other aspects of your mouth that allow you to bite, chew, swallow and speak.

In recent years, however, we have learned that our oral health is deeply connected to our systemic health, and problems that begin in the mouth — from cavities to gum disease to missing teeth — can impact our systemic health without proper dental care. The FDI World Dental Federation recently revised its definition of “oral health” in recognition of our growing understanding of the links between our dental health and our general well-being.

woman brushing her teeth in front of her bathroom mirror

Oral Health: A Global Effort

The FDI World Dental Federation was started in Paris in 1900 by a group of six dentists as the Federation Dentaire Internationale (FDI). Its goal was to advance dental science and patient care through regular congresses.

Today, as the FDI World Dental Federation, the organization includes more than 200 member dental associations from about 130 countries, including those in the United States. It maintains an official relationship with the World Health Organization (WHO), and it concentrates in part on oral health advocacy as well as helping to develop policies and educational programs.

The FDI World Dental Federation’s mission is “to promote optimal oral and general health for all peoples.” The bond between oral and general health is one the organization targeted at its annual World Dental Conference earlier this month.

Reconsidering the Meaning of ‘Oral Health’

The FDI announced a new, enhanced definition of oral health that reflects current research and aligns with the views of other leading health organizations including the WHO and the American Dental Association (ADA).

According to the FDI, oral health:

  • Is multifaceted and includes the ability to speak, smile, smell, taste, touch, chew, swallow and convey a range of emotions through facial expressions … without pain, discomfort and disease of the craniofacial complex
  • Is a fundamental component of health, and physical and mental well-being
  • Reflects the physiological, social and psychological attributes that are essential to quality of life
  • Is influenced by the individual’s changing experiences, perceptions, expectations and ability to adapt to circumstances

“This new definition moves dentistry from treating disease to treating a person with disease,” said Dr. Michael Glick, FDI member and Journal of the American Dental Association editor, in an ADA article. “The new definition uses language that resonates with language commonly used in the healthcare realm—words and concepts that healthcare professionals across disciplines can understand and use.”

What Does This Mean for Patients?

The revised definition was created by the FDI’s Vision 2020 Think Tank, which is comprised of experts in oral health, public health and health economics from around the world. It is intended to emphasize the relationships between oral health and overall health, with a patient-first focus.

The FDI hopes the new definition will improve assessment tools and data collection for dentists and other doctors in order to better understand the relationships between oral health and systemic health problems. The organization also believes the more-thorough definition will allow dentists and physicians to better serve patients who experience dental problems that could affect their general health, or who experience systemic ailments that may be related to oral health concerns.

The accomplished cosmetic dentists at Smile Columbia Dentistry are committed to helping patients maintain healthy smiles for life. Whether you’re due for a checkup and teeth cleaning, or you’re considering cosmetic dentistry to restore your smile, we invite you to call us at (803) 781-9090 to schedule your appointment.