An update on the Partnership for Healthy Mouths, Healthy Lives campaign

Sept. 1, 2011

By Gary Price, Dental Trade Alliance CEO

As a profession, dentistry is about more than a business model. We are all dedicated to helping patients live better, healthier lives.

To increase awareness of the importance of oral health, in 2009 the Dental Trade Alliance launched the Oral Healthcare Can’t Wait campaign aimed at dental professionals. The campaign was successful, but we realized that directly reaching the public was still very important. We knew we needed to develop a campaign to connect with patients.

We aren’t alone in this belief. More than 25 organizations have joined DTA to create the Partnership for Healthy Mouths, Healthy Lives. Recently, the partnership and the Ad Council agreed to begin a three-year public service ad campaign to educate and raise awareness about the importance of children’s oral health and its tie to disease prevention.

“There is a large part of the population that doesn’t get routine oral health care or preventive care, and doesn’t realize how important it is to their long-term heath. Getting that message out is especially important with the downturn in the economy,” said DTA chairman Bret Wise, DENTSPLY International’s chairman, CEO, and president. “We can reach a large part of the population we’ve never had access to before.”

Because the problems of oral health are extensive, we decided to narrow our focus to children, particularly children most at risk of oral disease. We will focus our efforts on caregivers in an attempt to change bad habits that contribute to oral disease, and to motivate people to make prevention of oral disease a priority.

Building awareness of the importance of a healthy mouth and its link to overall health is at the core of the campaign. More children suffer from preventable disease of the mouth than any other childhood disease.

• Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease of childhood, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
• More than 16 million American children have untreated tooth decay.
• Incredibly, of the 4 million children born each year, more than half will have cavities by the time they reach second grade.
• Gum disease can lead to tooth loss and may impact overall health.
• Gum disease is nearly universal among kids and adolescents.
• Mouth infections and sores are common.
• Thrush occurs most often in babies and toddlers.
• The mouth is the gateway to a person’s overall health, and an unhealthy mouth can be linked to obesity, diabetes, and even heart disease.
• American children miss more than 750,000 school days each year as a result of dental conditions.

Many Americans don’t realize that an unhealthy mouth directly impacts kids’ ability to learn. No child in America should be in pain and suffer the broader health issues, or endure the social stigma and lack of opportunity that results from untreated dental disease. Every child deserves a healthy smile.

The Partnership for Healthy Mouths, Healthy Lives campaign should launch in mid 2012. After the first year of the campaign the Ad Council will do extensive research among the targeted groups to test whether the campaign influenced their knowledge of oral health and encouraged a change in daily behavior toward disease prevention. There are also many mechanisms in place to track the level of disease, and these will be used as well. The ultimate measure of success will be the reduction of oral disease, one of the most chronic diseases in our country.

The Dental Trade Alliance led the effort to develop the more than 25-member Partnership for Healthy Mouths, Healthy Lives coalition. DTA is involved in this campaign because part of our mission is to improve the oral health of all Americans. We believe it is critical to teach children about proper oral care so they can become healthy adults. Poor oral health habits contribute significantly to poor overall health. Preventing oral disease will lead to a healthier population.

Other Partnership members include the Academy of General Dentistry, American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology, American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, American Academy of Periodontology, American Association for Dental Research, American Association of Endodontists, American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, American Association of Orthodontists, American Association of Public Health Dentistry, American Association of Women Dentists, American College of Prosthodontists, American Dental Association, American Dental Education Association, Association of State and Territorial Dental Directors, California Dental Association, Dental Trade Alliance Foundation, Hispanic Dental Association, Medicaid SCHIP Dental Association, National Dental Association, National Network for Oral Health Access, Oral Health America, Organization for Safety, Asepsis and Prevention, Society of American Indian Dentists, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources/Office of Minority Health.

“We welcome all people involved in oral health care to participate by spreading the word or donating to the campaign,” Wise said. “This campaign is broad enough that everyone can participate.”

To find out more about the Partnership for Healthy Mouths, Healthy Lives ad campaign, please contact the Dental Trade Alliance at (703) 379-7755 or e-mail [email protected].