Reconnecting Practicing Hygienists with the Nation's Leading Educators and Researchers.

The Mouth Is Connected to The Body

Dental hygiene professionals have long understood the association between oral and overall health.

Dental hygiene professionals have long understood the association between oral and overall health. We’ve seen it in our practices when patients present with periodontitis and diabetes. We’ve noticed how patients with poor oral health tend to have other systemic issues related to inflammation, such as cardiovascular diseases or respiratory problems. However, the mouth/body connection is still novel to many, including those who develop and determine health care policy in the United States. A recent report from the American Dental Association (ADA) Health Policy Institute may change that, as it looks at the mouth/body connection through a different lens.

The mission of the ADA Health Policy Institute is to provide policy knowledge related to critical issues in the dental care system in order to inform strategic decision making within and outside of the ADA. In 2015, the Health Policy Institute surveyed adults in all 50 states to determine oral health status, attitudes, and utilization of dental services. The results shed light on the key oral health factors that affect adults, and these concerns are more than health-related. For instance, the survey helped uncover how social implications and interviewing for a job are impacted by oral health status. It also examined reasons related to infrequency of oral care visits and personal concepts on oral health and aging. As a result, the Health Policy Institute determined three main areas that require attention by US health care policy makers:

  1. Ending the separation of mouth and body in state and federal health care policy
  2. Alternative designs for adult dental benefits in Medicaid and private dental benefit plans
  3. Need for systems to measure oral health and well-being based on the Health PolicyInstitute’s findings1

The third area mentioned is groundbreaking, as it suggests new ways to focus on the impact of poor oral health. As opposed to measuring only the presence and severity of oral diseases and the care provided to mitigate these conditions, the Health Policy Institute suggests that systems should measure how oral health impacts social, physical, and emotional well-being. As the Health Policy Institute’s commentary states, “These are the ultimate measures of interest that any dental care delivery system ought to be designed around… A robust oral health and well-being measurement system would also enable a shift toward outcomes-based delivery and reimbursement models, a critical future direction in health care in the US.” While we certainly need to consider the overall health implications related to oral health, it’s important to think about the big picture, as well

Jill Rethman, RDH, BA
Editor in Chief

To read the American Dental Association Health Policy Institute report, “Oral Health and Well-Being in the United States,” visit:


  1. American Dental Association Health Policy Institute. Oral Health and Well-Being in the United States.Commentary—So What? Now What? Available at: Accessed June 21, 2016.

From Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. July 2016;14(07):10.

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