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Oral Health Overview

In May 2000, the first-ever Surgeon General’s report on oral health, Oral Health in America, called attention to the “silent epidemic” of dental and oral diseases that burdens millions of children and adults throughout the United States. In the report, the Surgeon General addressed the importance of building a science and evidence-base to improve oral health, building the infrastructure to address oral health, removing barriers to oral health services, and developing public-private partnerships to address disparities in oral health.

Oral health is essential to overall general health and well-being, but there is also a growing recognition that many challenges identified 20 years ago have not been adequately addressed. Dental caries (tooth decay) is the single most common chronic childhood disease. There are striking disparities in oral diseases among various disadvantaged and underserved population subgroups. Approximately one-third of the U.S. population has no access to community water fluoridation.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) supports a broad spectrum of oral health activities that has had a significant and positive impact on the nation’s oral health through oral health financing, research, workforce development, public health action, quality initiatives and technology.