For people suffering from dental, oral, or craniofacial pain, the link between oral health and general well-being is beyond dispute. However, for policy makers, payers, and health care professionals, a chasm dividing the two has developed over time and continues to exist today. In effect, the oral health care field has remained separated from general health care (e.g., medicine, pharmacy, nursing, allied health professions). Recently, however, researchers and others have placed a greater emphasis on establishing and clarifying the oral-systemic linkages.

The surgeon general’s report Oral Health in America made it clear that oral health care is broader than dental care and that a healthy mouth is more than just healthy teeth (see Box 2-1). The report described the mouth as a mirror of health and disease occurring in the rest of the body, in part because a thorough oral examination can detect signs of numerous general health problems, such as nutritional deficiencies and systemic diseases, including microbial infections, immune disorders, injuries, and some cancers (HHS, 2000b). Oral lesions are often the first manifestation of HIV infection and may be used to predict progression from HIV to AIDS (Coogin et al., 2005). Sexually transmitted HP-16 virus has been established as the cause of a number of vaginal as well as oropharyngeal cancers (Marur et al., 2010; Shaw and Robinson, 2010). Dry mouth (xerostomia) is an early symptom of Sjogren’s syndrome, one of the most common autoimmune disorders (Al-Hashimi, 2001), and is also a side effect for a large number

BOX 2-1
Dental, Oral, and Craniofacial

The word oral refers to the mouth. The mouth includes not only the teeth and the gums (gingiva) and their supporting tissues but also the hard and soft palate, the mucosal lining of the mouth and throat, the tongue, the lips, the salivary glands, the chewing muscles, and the upper and lower jaws. Equally important are the branches of the nervous, immune, and vascular systems that animate, protect, and nourish the oral tissues, as well as provide connections to the brain and the rest of the body. The genetic patterning of development in utero further reveals the intimate relationship of the oral tissues to the developing brain and to the tissues of the face and head that surround the mouth, structures whose location is captured in the word craniofacial.

SOURCE: HHS, 2000b.

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