The definition was originally adopted by the FDI in September 2016, but the ADA hadn’t officially adopted it until more recently. The new definition says,
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 with confidence and without pain, discomfort, and disease of the craniofacial complex.
There are two crucial aspects of this new definition. First, the emphasis is on function, which is a departure from previous conceptions that focused on oral disease as the measure of health. Disease is mentioned here, but only as an adjunct to function. The functionality of the mouth is part of its level of health.
This is related to the second crucial aspect of the definition. The definition importantly expands the area of dental focus beyond the mouth, teeth, and gums to include the entirety of the head and neck. The craniofacial complex is certainly an essential part of the functioning and health of the mouth. Conditions like TMJ and sleep apnea help us understand how crucial the close interactions between the teeth and other tissues can be.
The definition recognizes three main aspects of oral health: disease and condition status, physiological function, and psycho-social function.
Oral Health Is Relative
Another important aspect of the new definition is that it seems to acknowledge that oral health is not an absolute, but a relative term. Instead of being defined by a single value that may have relevance only one society or even social group within a society, oral health can be defined by any individual. Each individual plays an important role in defining their own oral health. The definition acknowledges that oral health “is a fundamental component of health and physical and mental well-being. It exists along a continuum influenced by the values and attitudes of people and communities.” People define their oral health. And they don’t just define it at one time: it’s a dynamic component. Oral health “is influenced by the person’s changing experiences, perceptions, expectations, and ability to adapt to circumstances.“ What seems healthy today may not seem healthy tomorrow, depending on how one’s situation changes.
How Is Your Oral Health Today?
At the Center for Family & Cosmetic Dentistry, we strive to ensure the optimal oral health for all our patients. This includes the absence of disease, but also optimal function for physiological purposes (like chewing) and psycho-social purposes (like smiling). Utilizing cosmetic dentistry, neuromuscular dentistry, and new techniques like Healthy Start orthodontics, we are able to address this comprehensive definition of oral health.